STERLING – The Sterling City Council knows there are ways to address some of the city's flooding issues, but struggles with how to fund the projects.
Dating back to 2011, the City Council has discussed implementing a stormwater utility fee, which could charge residents $3 per month and businesses an amount according to the size of the property. The money raised, according to the city, would be enough to pay for approximately $14 million in stormwater upgrades.
But the measure wasn't included in this fiscal year's budget, and City Manager Scott Shumard said there haven't been any discussions about it since.
"There hasn't been any political push to move forward," he said. "I think most of the council understands that there’s a need to do it."
There's a need, many of the council members told Sauk Valley Media last week, but they haven't seen a proposal that strikes the right balance between taxes and upgrades in the near future.
Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said it was a matter of when, not if, a stormwater utility fee will be included in the budget. And it could happen in one of the next two budgets, he said.
"Part of the problem has been, given the economy, the desire of the council to impose any new taxes just hasn't been there," Lee said.
While the City Council may not be in a rush to impose fees on homeowners and businesses, the longer it waits to do so, the more expensive the fix can become, said Ward 4 Alderman Joe Martin.
"When you delay a $14 or $15 million purchase continuously, year after year after year, with inflation, it becomes an issue," he said.
Delaying implementation of the fee, and as a result the start of the projects, Martin said, highlights another issue.
Under the proposal presented to the City Council during the last budget discussions, portions of the project wouldn't start for 10 or 20 years, meaning the homeowners and businesses would pay for upgrades to the city, while not seeing the work themselves for years.
And while the proposed fee is only $3 per month for homeowners, Ward 1 Alderwoman Retha Elston said some families may not have that in their long-term budget. She's also worried about the impact a fee would have on the many businesses in her ward, both big and small.
"I think I’m still worried about the costs for business," she said. "Some of the prices they were quoting seemed like a lot for a small business just starting up."
Ward 2 Alderman Barry Cox said he questions whether it's fair for residents to pay for poor planning by previous developers. He believes that is the reason the fee didn't move forward during the last budget discussions.
"I don’t have the answer. It''s the city manager's job to present to us different ideas," Cox said. "He’s not going to make everyone happy, and I may very well be one of the ones he doesn't make happy. And that will be reflected in the way I vote."
Lee said he's been pushing for the stormwater utility fee to be included in budgets, but said if affected residents showed up to council meetings and complained, it may become more of a priority.
"The council responds to their constituents very well," he said. "That’s another way it could get put into action."
The city may also have to make upgrades to its wastewater treatment facility in the next few years, Shumard said, when the city renews its license for the facility.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updates its standards for what contaminants can be in the water. The city will have to present the EPA with a plan to address the new standards when it applies for its next renewal, which could be in about 3 years, Shumard said.
The city currently sets aside $500,000 per year in anticipation of upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility, Shumard said.
The Sterling City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the City Hall Annex, 20 W. Third St. in Library Plaza.
Go to www.sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.