City collects $4M utility taxes, now proposes fees to pay water bill

The Rockford Register Star reported Tuesday that City officials are proposing a fee for the “convenience” of paying our monthly garbage and water bills.

The proposal calls for a $3 fee per transaction for one-time payments over the phone and a $2 fee for one-time payments online. On top of those fees, there would be a $2 monthly convenience fee for those who still get paper bills mailed to their home or $5 per paper bill.

These fees are in addition to the almost $4 million dollars the city will collect by adding a 5 percent charge to residents electric and gas bills in April after the voters rejected an effort to return home rule, which would have allowed the city to raise taxes without voter approval. They obviously had alternatives and the aldermen support them.

These fees according to the Register Star were a recommendation from the resident-run financial task force appointed by the mayor with some task force members from the home rule referendum committee leading these new efforts.

Alderwoman Ann Thomas Kelly, D-7, said most companies and utilities are already charging similar fees to cover cost of billing and “it’s about time we do that.”

The alderwoman should check that her constituents are able to pay automated water/trash bills or face increased fees to pay the current paper bills or to pay in person at city hall as Mayor Tom McNamara suggested but it has to be an electronic bill sent to computers many of her constituents do not possess or use.

Having shared this new proposed fee (tax) on Facebook, comments were very hostile. One must credit the mayor for at least attempting to answer some of the comments.

Alberto Altamore posted – Tom, thank you for your response, but I don’t do automatic withdrawals. I always come in to city hall and pay my bills in person and always pay more so that I’m months ahead.

Tom, I’m frustrated and upset that we are constantly levied more fees and taxes like we don’t pay enough in taxes already…There comes a point when people have had enough.

Thomas McNamara – Alberto Altamore, well if I you request your bill to be emailed to you electronically you can still come in and pay months in advance and not be assessed a fee. I would prefer to be able to avoid the fees as opposed to increasing property taxes or cutting public safety.

Thomas McNamara – Ted, the money will go to pay down our pension debt. As you know our state mandated pension payment went from $9M in 2013 and will be $21M in 2020. When adopting these fees we made sure there are ways to avoid the fee all together for all citizens – banked and unbanked.

It’s a fee if you choose it to be and one you can avoid. The money goes to paying our debt and keeping services and staff including Public Safety staff to which at the City we do not want to cut.

Tony Arbisi – Mr. Mayor, why not put a tax or fee on the ballot and let the citizens’ vote? When will “taxing the people” mentality ever stop? Why can’t we bring jobs back to this region; jobs that will produce growth and stability? I’m invested in this region and Rockford is my home, but soon we will run out of turnips!

Thomas McNamara – Tony Arbisi, we laid out taxes and they were rejected. So we also laid out alternatives and are doing exactly what we said we would have to do. We are bringing jobs – they just don’t get the news like other thing so we found other ways to pay our debts besides spending cuts.

Other comments made – The pension debt is not the taxpayers fault so why should we have to be taxed again; terrible idea! Just think if Home Rule passed. A true Democratic way what else can we think of to tax our citizens; shame on you Mayor; bunch of highway robbers; Call your alderman!; has anything been done yet to reform the pension system or are we simply throwing money at it we don’t have?

Another comment – This is a form of double taxation and is unacceptable! I can no longer afford to live in this town or this state! I do not trust any entity to automatically withdraw from my bank account. I’ve been burned by this several times before. There is too much risk involved. If you want your money from me, you will not tax me in the form of fees to pay you!

With automation, how many staff will be cut downtown? Automation should help lower cost not increase what residents have to pay. Finally, where will the usage data that is on the current paper bills be found?