By Jim Hagerty
CITY HALL — Construction plans of the Mercyhealth Women and Children’s Hospital were again brought in front of leaders Monday, as Rockford aldermen delayed a vote on the health care network’s request for a waiver of fees connected to the project at the June 5 meeting of the Rockford City Council.
The hospital wants a waiver on $200,000 in fees associated with inspections and infrastructure improvements surrounding the $505 million hospital project. Instead, aldermen laid over the matter for two weeks without discussing it in detail.
The council has already agreed to cut the cost of the $1.8 million building permit in half. The fees up for a current vote are not part of the permitting process, but officials wanted the fees pushed underneath the initial $900,000 cap.
Doing so has some alderman concerned about a number of concessions the city gives to private developments in a time when Rockford is looking at a spending gap of $6.5 million.
Democratic Fifth Ward Alderman Venita Hervey is among leaders who want to stand firm on the fees, telling reporters Monday taxpayers are on the hook every time the city waives these dollar amounts.
“Every penny we give comes from taxpayers,” she said. “It’s not my personal money. We have to make sure we are being prudent.”
Seventh Ward Democrat Ann Thompson-Kelly said she would not support the waiver because of taxpayer burden, adding that a $200,000 inspection fee on a half-billion-dollar deal is not a deal breaker for Mercy.
“This will not interfere with the construction of this hospital, nor is it going to interfere with their future plans,” she said. “I won’t be supporting this because I don’t feel we can afford (it).”
Thompson-Kelly said Mercyhealth’s Javon Bea, in conversations she’s had with the company’s CEO, told her the hospital was not leaning on the city for the concession, and she is taking him at his word.
Bea could not be reached for comment at press time.
The cost of the initial building permit was a major point of contention last year when Mercy threatened to nix the plan and build the new medical center across the border in Wisconsin if Rockford didn’t acquiesce to a reduction. City staff rejected the cut, citing a need to realign Rockford’s emergency response system to make way for the 262-acre hospital.
After a back-and-forth between Bea and then-Mayor Larry Morrissey, the hospital got its way. Aldermen voted 12-1 in March 2016 to cut the fee to $900,000. Hervey was the lone “no” vote, citing the same reason she voiced Monday. Aldermen who supported said the long-term economic impact of the hospital outweighs the cost.
Chad Tuneberg, R-3, said he wants to settle the matter to avoid sending a message to other companies looking at Rockford that doing business here is difficult.
Talks are expected to resume at the June 19 council meeting.
In other city business, aldermen approved a proposal to demolish 31 blighted properties throughout Rockford and signed off on the liquor license for Thai Sisters Cafe at 514 E. State St.
The council laid over a request to reduce a property violation fee to $500 on a building being purchased by Zenith Cutter at 1801 17th Ave.
The Rockford City Council meets on the first and third Monday of every month. Council committee meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday at City Hall. R.