BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Voters will decide in November if they want to be part of a new electrical aggregation program in Vermilion County.
County board members voted on Tuesday to approve putting a referendum on the ballot asking voters whether to initiate an electrical aggregation program in Vermilion County.
The program would allow the county to combine the residents into a single buying group for electricity. The group — represented by Integrys Energy of Chicago — would then have increased buying power and, as a result, receive more competitive prices.
Integrys Energy Services Vice President Ron Cardwell and sales manager Bob Hedrich answered questions before the board Tuesday night prior to the vote.
Cardwell, speaking afterward, said the plan “lowers electric rates through group buying.” He indicated the plan allows between 20 to 30 percent to be shaved off the actual cost of electricity.
The Illinois General Assembly approved legislation in 2010 that allowed local governments to aggregate the electric power purchasing of residents. More than 200 communities passed aggregation referendums in the March primary election.
With Tuesday’s approval by the county board, Cardwell said Integrys would handle getting the word out to residents about the referendum through mailings as well as community meetings, helping residents to make an “informed decision.”
Integrys already is established in the county, with agreements already set up with agencies such as the Public Safety Building Commission and the Danville Sanitary District as well as businesses such as Carle Clinic and Provena United Samaritans Medical Center.
According to the Citizens Utility Board, five other states have communities that purchase their own power through such programs. Rhode Island and Ohio both estimate the aggregation program has saved more than $18 million per year.
The plan, if approved by voters, would only be available to Ameren customers. Cardwell said co-op customers cannot take part. In addition, residents who do not want to participate can opt out of the program.
Although the referendum is on the ballot, the county is not required to establish the electrical aggregation program. Cardwell told board members if the county is unsatisfied with the savings, it can put off initiating the program or not go through with it at all.
Also at Tuesday’s county board meeting:
The resolution calls for salaries of four offices — circuit clerk, recorder, coroner and auditor — to start at $60,980, an increase from the $59,200 the county officials currently receive. Each official would then receive a 3 percent increase each of the four years, bringing the totals to $66,650 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Under the resolution, the county board chairman’s salary will also be bumped up, going from $61,700 to $65,000.
The resolution passed 15-7, the closest vote of the night.
Gary Weinard of District 1 said the raises are appropriate given the job the officeholders have done holding the line for the county budget and returning unused money from their office budgets.
“It’s a way of saying you’ve done a good job,” he said.
Several board members disagreed. District 3’s Rick Knight, who has said he received calls from several residents against the resolution, argued that is part of the duty of the office, not a reason for a raise.
“I agree they’ve done a good job, but that is their job — being good stewards with the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
District 3’s Steve Fourez agreed, questioning the process in which the county determined the raises.
“Too much is made of how good a job someone’s done in the past,” he said.
Knight had said prior to Tuesday’s meeting the county’s economic status did not allow for such an increase.
In addition to board members, one local resident — Bob Randall of Danville — stepped up to speak out against the proposed raises.
“We need to restore fiscal responsibility,” Randall told board members. He pointed that with the 3 percent raises, many of the labor unions that negotiate with the county will expect similar raises.
Statutes dictate the salaries for almost all of the county offices are set every four years. The deadline to approve the salaries is 180 days from Dec. 1 — the day office holders begin a new term. The salary for the state’s attorney — which also is on the county November election ballot — is set by the State of Illinois — which is supposed to pay a portion of the salary.
A new salary structure will begin for county board members with the next fiscal year as well. A previous per diem structure will be replaced by a flat fee of $250 per month for the 26 board members. The board members will be docked $50 for each unexcused absence from board or committee meetings.