Council to consider raising water, garbage rates
• News and notes from the Sept. 28 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
The Rockford City Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee introduced a report Sept. 28 recommending an increased garbage collection fee, from $11.20 to $14.20 per month. If approved, the move would take effect Jan. 1.
The $3 difference for trash removal, which the city presently pays from property tax revenues, would instead be shifted to property owners, freeing up approximately $1.8 million for the city—the equivalent of nearly 30 jobs—for public safety.
In committee, Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5) voted against the fee increase for residents.
A 3 percentage-point water rate increase, which would be effective Dec. 1, was also recommended to the full council by the committee.
The matters will be on the floor for discussion and votes Oct. 5.
Aldermen passed committee reports recommending:
υ Northern Illinois Service be awarded its $91,246 bid to demolish 12 properties on the southeast side.
υ An amendment to a $75,000 information technology services agreement, which will result in savings of $9,563 for the 2010 fiscal year.
υ Homer L. Chastain & Associates be awarded $52,042 for additional design engineering and construction inspection related to the Main Street pedestrian mall removal and streetscape project. Chastain’s total award for its share of the work is not to exceed $401,533.
υ Approval of an agreement with Crusader Clinic for the city to provide $33,668.82 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the relocation of utility lines and poles at Crusader’s 1100 Broadway facility.
υ Submission of grant application for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grants totaling $750,000. One of the grants would provide $350,000 specifically for environmental assessment work at the South Main Street rail yard. The remaining $400,000 grant funds could be used community-wide.
Retired police officer and former Winnebago County Board member Bruce Roberts continued his plea for the city to hire more officers, not lay them off. Eight police officers and 22 other city workers stand to lose their jobs as the city considers where cuts can be made.
“The circumstances we are dealing with right now in the City of Rockford have gotten a little bit worse than they used to be,” Roberts asserted. “The job is a little different. It’s a far more dangerous job.”
By FBI standards, Roberts explained, Rockford has triple the number of serious crimes considered normal for a city of its size.
“Rockford has more in five of the eight categories [murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson] than Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Naperville combined,” Roberts noted. “That’s a lot of crime. That’s a lot of things for the people on the Rockford Police Department to have to deal with.
“When these people call in the middle of the night to have a cop come, they want one to come right now,” he added. “They don’t want to have to wait for a while. When I listen to the police monitor, and I hear calls that take hours to get to, when calls are stacked up at the front desk into the hundreds, waiting to have a report done—that isn’t fair to the public.”
Although he acknowledged layoffs as a necessary evil, Roberts urged aldermen not to impose the cuts on public safety.
“Leadership isn’t fun,” Roberts said. “Leadership’s not really easy, either. Leadership says that…you’ve gotta look at somebody and say, ‘You don’t work here anymore, ’cause we need cops more than you.’ Tough thing to do, but you gotta do it.”
Anti-abortion activist Kevin Rilott targeted the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, 1400 Broadway, during public comments.
He accused the center of “anti-Christian hatred” and “a level of bigotry, racism, hatred that is seen nowhere else in this country.”
Rilott told aldermen, “It is not tolerated anywhere else the way it is tolerated here.”
Rilott provided council members with photos of signs and other displays in the center’s windows, meant to mock the anti-abortion activists who protest there each week, he said.
Rilott alleged that information noting one protester’s status as HIV-positive was also displayed at the center.
“They put signs up, trying to expose his medical condition to the people of Rockford,” he alleged. “This is supposed to be a medical facility—that is placing a person’s personal medical history in the windows.”
During one verbal altercation between protesters and a neighbor, Rilott further alleged, center security warned the neighbor protesters had called the police.
“This is a cancer, eating away at every man, woman and child in this city,” he added. “And if we remain silent and allow this to continue, then we will reap what we sow.”
Rilott and a number of supporters in attendance asked the council to adopt a resolution publicly denouncing the behavior Rilott has alleged.
Rilott and fellow protesters filed a federal lawsuit last year, alleging their First Amendment rights were violated when the city removed an anti-abortion ad from a bus-stop bench, and that the city failed to provide protection for protesters at the clinic.
In recent weeks, fellow anti-abortion activist Dan McCarty has complained to aldermen that stationing police at the center is costly for the city.
Prophet Yusef, a retired teacher and Navy veteran, encouraged the council to pursue tourism as a major revenue-generator.
Yusef said tourism was responsible for more than $2 billion brought into Rockford in the past seven years.
“That’s where your strength is at,” he noted, suggesting that the local tourism industry become even more competitive by making visits to Rockford less expensive, such as lowering hotel rates.
Yusef also encouraged aldermen to lobby Springfield lawmakers to repeal the statewide smoking ban.
“The smoking ban is killing the service industry,” he asserted.
Yusef promised that if city leaders heed his advice, Rockford tourism will yield nearly $400 million in 2010, in which case no city workers would have to be laid off.
Lauren Siebert asked the council to reconsider its funding priorities.
“Our city is overly dependent on sales taxes to generate revenues to meet our financial obligations,” she said. “As you all probably know, the burden of sales tax falls mostly on the poor, the working and middle classes. In a sense, we have a city funded by consumer activity, which is great when people have money to spend. But it’s not so good when times get hard.”
Siebert argued it makes no sense for the city to eliminate dozens of working and middle-class jobs, then turned her attention to Rockford’s 21 tax increment finance (TIF) districts.
“The hope is that these improvements will spur growth and make property values go up, which sounds like a good idea, right? But the truth of the matter is that any additional funds that are raised through taxes, through these increased property values, cannot then be turned around and used to fund the city’s services that would support that growth,” she explained. “The money can only be used to go back and provide further assistance to the private interests in the district.”
Of Rockford’s 21 TIF districts, Siebert noted: “Only two are actually delivering on this grand promise of raising property values. Most are actually in the hole.
“Our city has sold off its vast capacity to generate revenues that would supplement, or even replace, sales taxes in order to do things that, as a city seeking growth, we would have done anyway,” she added. “I understand that everyone wants growth, but we need to decide who we’re actually building this city for.
“Are we building it for the developers, for the big companies, for the Chicago architects, for the people who can already afford the million-dollar lofts downtown, for the people who own property along the proposed roundabout, or the new rail depot?” Siebert wondered. “Is that who we’re building this city for? Because if that’s what we’re doing, we might as well turn around right now and say that the members of the 2010 budget advisory council, and those they represent, are the only real citizens of Rockford, because they are the only ones making money here. And if we keep eliminating working and middle-class jobs, and getting ourselves involved in a quagmire of TIF districts, pretty soon, this elite group will be the only ones that have any money to spend.”
Siebert concluded: “Balancing the city’s budget problems on the backs of our workers, at the expense of our citizens, is not the way to proceed. Go back to the drawing board, re-examine your priorities and give your true constituents a better solution. We need a Rockford for all Rockfordians.”
Janna Bailey and Scott Sanders were appointed to three-year terms on the Historical Preservation Commission. Their terms expire in April and June of 2012, respectively.
October was proclaimed Head Start Awareness Month and Arts & Humanities Month.
Aldermen Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7), Linda McNeely (D-13) and Bill Robertson (I-14) were absent. Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) presided while Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) was in China.
From the September 30 – October 6, 2009 issue.
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