With Fairbury’s aging infrastructure, becoming more of a concern, the Fairbury City Council agreed to take action on Tuesday night, approving a progressive proprietary budget that will begin addressing needed capital improvements.
Fairbury City Administrator Collin Bielser explained to the council that the utilities operate similarly to a private business. He explained that he worked closely with each of the utility superintendents to determine their needs and how to budget for the needed improvement projects to make the utilities more efficient.
“What’s proposed here is more of an aggressive schedule to try and ramp up our expenditures on upgrading our system,” said Bielser. “This is also the first known budget to involve the utility department heads. We wanted to try to do a more progressive, performance-based budget working with the department heads to see what they need, what projects they see as priorities and how to fit them into the budget. As future budget years move forward, we’ll continue to flush out those priorities with things we’re doing internally and externally, and making sure that we’re updating our utility infrastructure so that it can be more efficient and profitable for the city.”
Bielser explained that this year was the first since 2011 that the electric utility has made a profit, which is a result of rate increases and other changes in the department, including the loss of the power plant. Jim Morehead, Electric Line Superintendent, explained to the council that they are looking to upgrade infrastructure by replacing meters with smart meters, that are capable of being radio-read. They are also looking to upgrading breakers at substations, which have been running since the 1950s.
“It’s just time to update,” Morehead said. “There’s 11 breakers total, but we’re trying to eliminate some of them. This year, we just finished de-energizing some substations at McNish Park.”
Morehead also hopes to purchase a new digger truck, which could cost up to $300,000. Currently, the city owns two digger trucks: one from 1978 and another from 1994. The new truck would allow crews to safely install larger power poles.
The water utility, Bielser noted, is fiscally the strongest one, though he believes it is time to make infrastructure upgrades. Water Superintendent Jeff Sweetser explained that he would like to replace some pumps located at the power plant that have not been upgraded since the 1940s.
The waste water utility struggles to make revenue meet the expenses, Bielser explained. He noted that sewer rates have not been adjusted since 2008. The department is planning to conduct a waste-water rate study to make sure the rates are in line with operational costs. They will also be working to make infrastructure upgrades to make sure the treatment plant is running as efficiently as possible. Waste Water Superintendent Dennis McAtee believes that it will be vital to replace one of the pumps at the facility soon, because of the increased levels of water flow.
“It’s wearing out and things need to be updated,” said McAtee. “It’s time to do something instead of just repairing what’s down there. We replaced one pump a year ago that’s rated at 450 gallons per minute. It’s working good, but the flow from the storm tonight is a little over 500 gallons per minute. The other two pumps are really old, and it can be dangerous to work down there.”
Bielser noted that there are no new rate increases for Fairbury’s utilities planned at this time. The city council agreed to approve the budget.
Also during the Fairbury City Council meeting, the council approved an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, which makes changes to insurance coverage and wage increases, Councilman Doug Brown explained.
“Currently, the city pays 97 percent of an employee’s premium, and 90 to 92 percent of the employee’s dependents,” said Brown. “Now the city will pay 95 percent of an employee’s premium and 88 percent of the employee’s dependents’ coverage. Beginning June 1, there will be wage increases of 2.25 percent through September, and in October 2017 it will be 2.5 percent and in October 2018, it will be another 2.5 percent.”