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Local

Rock Falls utilities committee taking shape

Appointments coming for ratepayer representatives

ROCK FALLS – The city’s utilities have been brought under the umbrella of a new oversight committee that should soon better represent the ratepayers.

Mayor Bill Wescott first proposed the idea of a utilities oversight board in April 2015. The new utilities committee oversees operations of the electric, water, wastewater, and broadband utilites, as well as the customer service office. It replaces some of the standing committees that had dealt with utilities individually.

Water, sewer, and garbage have fallen under the jurisdiction of the public works and property committee, while an electric committee oversees that utility and the new broadband business. Garbage operations will remain with the public works panel.

The new committee will have seven voting members: Aldermen Jim Schuneman, George Logan Jr. and Glen Kuhlemier; the mayor; and the three ratepayer representatives. As with other committees, City Administrator Robbin Blackert will participate in an advisory capacity. The mayor will likely vote only to break ties, as he does on the council.

“An important thing to remember is that this board just makes recommendations and the council gets the final say on everything,” Wescott said.

Wescott said recommendations will be made for the citizen seats at the Sept. 5 City Council meeting. One nominee will reside within the city limits, one outside the city, and the other representative will be a business owner.

Municipal utility professionals strongly suggested that the city set up a governance board to better navigate a rapidly changing regulatory environment and take a more businesslike approach to operations. It also better represents the interests of the people who pay the utility bills.

“Other utilities have a board of directors, but in our municipal utilities, the ratepayers are our board,” Wescott said. “By bringing three people from the users segment, they have a stronger voice – and they should because they are actually the owners of the company.”

Because of the complexity of city utilities, the ratepayer representatives will face a significant learning curve.

“After the appointments are made, we’ll probably have an orientation meeting and take tours of the facilities,” Wescott said. “Then there is a lot of information to process.”

The meeting times will be set when the full board can figure out what works best for everyone’s schedules. The board will also work on mission and vision statements.

When members are settled in, the board will develop metrics designed to approach the utilities as serious businesses.

“We will establish benchmarks that will look at everything from how we’re meeting regulatory standards to measuring customer service and other operational details,” Wescott said.

By consolidating the utilities into one committee, the city hopes it will allow for more consistency in measuring the businesses’ performance.

“We would set up the same performance metrics for all of the utilities,” Blackert said. “It makes sense to have one committee and have the same people evaluating operations.”

The utilities accounted for 18 percent of the city’s general fund revenues in fiscal year 2017. The electric department alone is a more than $10 million a year enterprise.

WHAT’S NEXT

The mayor will make recommendations for citizen representatives to the utilities committee when the Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.

The agendas will be posted at rockfalls61071.net and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5.

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