The Pekin City Council on Monday was to consider a “Stormwater Community Outreach and Engagement Agreement,” to study Pekin’s needs for stormwater disposal, but not one would discuss it when the time came.
It was certainly a topic that engaged several community members, some who felt the agreement was another way the city could impose a stormwater fee.
“I don’t deny it’s good to look into things, but this is a precursor to another fee for the citizens of Pekin,” said Tremont resident and Pekin landlord Ann Witzig.
Mayor John McCabe gaveled down after she mentioned a fee. McCabe said the Council was not discussing a fee, just a study.
Witzig continued asking questions, and McCabe again interrupted.
“You know, you’re disrupting me,” Witzig said.
McCabe started yelling and became angry.
“Excuse me, Ms. Witzig, I was the person elected to sit in this chair here and to run these meetings. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
McCabe told her to stick to the subject or he would ask her to sit down.
“Will you really,” she said. “OK, we’ll address that later too.”
McCabe did not return a call for comment by press time.
The Council has public comment on agenda items only at the beginning of every meeting. The public may speak for five minutes. Financing the wastewater management in the future was included in Council documents on the agenda item.
Ultimately, the mayor asked for a motion to approve the study, and not one Council member would make such a motion. The issue was not considered further.
In a memo to Council members, City Engineer Mike Guerra said there has been ongoing flooding, erosion and the deterioration of the infrastructure. In recent years, a few projects have been completed with general fund revenues, but others await such as the flooding at Koch and Enterprise, erosion in the Broadway area, along Brentwood Ditch and at Vista Grande.
Guerra said the company would review the city’s capacity for current and future stormwater management including “the financing of the program. Specifically included would be a level of service evaluation, a comparison of estimated expenses versus revenues, a test process for community outreach and leadership, and detailed recommendations for the program.” The cost of the agreement would have been $32,000.
Several residents attending the meeting talked about the study. Two felt the study was a good idea to allow the city to see how broad of a problem storm water is. Others were avidly against it, because they said it would lead to a stormwater fee, which the Council voted down last year.
Bob Kieser, a Pekin Heights resident, said that his neighborhood does not have storm sewers, gutters or drains. Kieser referred to a study performed a few years ago on how to revamp Court Street. He said a lot of money was spent on that study and nothing came of it. The Council voted down a stormwater fee in April 2016.
“Where’s it at — what did we get for that money,” said Kieser. “Now we’re proposing to spend $32,000 to do community outreach for a stormwater fee.
“OK, maybe we have a community need to do something about stormwater. If it’s a community need, there’s a very easy solution — put on the big boy pants and go ahead and put it in the tax base where it belongs. If it’s infrastructure for the city, put it in the tax base. That’s where it belongs. I would submit to you that it would be illegal for you to do a stormwater fee.”
McCabe interrupted Kieser to tell him he could not talk about any fee because the action item was in regards to a study. Kieser said the study would lead to a fee.
“The agenda says a study, it doesn’t say anything about a storm water fee,” said McCabe.
Kieser threatened a suit if the city implemented a storm water fee on residents who do not have services of the storm water system. He said the city would have to provide the service under the suit or not charge the fee.
“You cannot charge us a fee for a service you cannot provide,” said Kieser.
McCabe warned the future speakers that the conversation was not about a fee, only a study, but that didn’t stop Witzig from referring to the stormwater fee after McCabe’s warning.
Resident Linda Harmon said she supports the study.
“Perhaps the study will show where those items are needed,” she said.
City Manager Tony Carson said Tuesday, “It’s my role to carry out the wishes of the Council. Clearly there is not enough interest to go forward.”
The Council meeting can be heard on the city web site, but any comments by the public or the outburst of McCabe are not there. IT Director Dave Hess said it was due to technical difficulty.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin