NORMAL — The same night Normal City Council approved several budget cuts and fee hikes starting April 1, they gave residents a long-requested change.
The town now will send monthly water bills, a $136,000 annual cost that officials said also generated a job, minutes after 24 other positions were eliminated. The town currently bills water, and other services, every two months.
"That's not the reason to go to monthly billing, to save a person's job, but ... it's kind of a win-win," said council member Jeff Fritzen. "We get to create a position, save a job and create a convenience for our constituents."
City Manager Mark Peterson said the $136,000 cost covers staff, including salary and benefits, and postage. Now 3.5 full-time positions handle billing.
Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston voted against the change.
"The customer service side of this is not enough for me to support a move," said Preston. "I'd rather provide customer service by saving $136,000."
Council member Chemberly Cummings responded that "to continue to consider bimonthly is coming from a privileged view" because it's especially tough for low-income households to budget around a bimonthly expense.
"There is some benefit (for the town) in cash flow. It's quite low. ... It's not going to offset the cost," said Peterson. "There might also be some reduction in delinquencies, we hope."
Council members also voted to increase the water fee 2 percent, a 90-cent-per-month increase; the average Normal household pays $43.61 per month for water. They also voted to remove a necessary deposit and fee increases for delinquent accounts and give customers 21 days, rather than 15, to pay after a bill is printed.
Lorenz also voted against increasing the fee, saying the town should offer some respite to residents whose other fees are going up.
Other members said they prefer to introduce rate increases consistently in small doses rather than in a large lump every few years.
"That just makes it easier to take another year off a year from now," said Fritzen. "It's wise to stay the course."
The council also voted to dramatically increase waste collection fees, which are listed on the same bill. Officials want to eliminate the town subsidy of that program by raising monthly fees from $18 to $24 per month on April 1, then each April until the fee is $32 in 2021.
Peterson said moving to a monthly bill might make those hikes more "digestable." He said the town will also offer more online payment options.
In other business, the council approved:
• A $102 million budget for 2018-19, beginning April 1. That's $20 million lower than 2017-18, due to eliminated positions and services, in response to declining revenue.
• A three-year contract with Pam Reece, now deputy city manager, to serve as city manager for $185,000 per year. Peterson, who will hold that position through March 30, makes $189,405.