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Water debt repayments start slowing to a trickle

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Wednesday, October 11, 2017  |  Article  |  Nick Draper

Comptroller (21) , Utilities (94)

MOUNT STERLING — Despite the passage of a state budget earlier this year, Mount Sterling continues to wait for Illinois to catch up on its utility bills.

The water bills for the Western Illinois Correction Center are steadily growing and the state is currently $411,047 overdue, with bills dating all the way back to April. City Administrator Vada Yingling said that a few payments had come in July to cover the bills for March, there’s no indication when the next payments might come.

“We spoke to [Rep.] Norine Hammond and [Sen.] Jil Tracy and they assured us the comptroller’s office had some payments in queue, whatever that means,” Yingling said. “We’re not asking them to pay all of their balance, but we’re asking for regular payments.”

An average bill for the medium-security facility that houses 1,800 prisoners runs between $55,000 and $58,000. Yingling said shutting off water to the prison was not an option.

One option may be to sell the debt to a third party who would then collect a percentage when it was fully paid. Ideally, however, the state would be able to resume making regular monthly payments.

Other communities are also awaiting debts to be paid from the state. In Pittsfield, for example, the Illinois Department of Corrections’s Pittsfield Work Camp continues to owe the city around $40,000, a little less than half of what the state owed before it began paying bills in July.

The Illinois Comptroller’s Office said that it is working to get the bills paid, but the line for collection is long.

Abdon Pallasch, director of communications for the Illinois Comptroller’s Office, said the department does what it can to pay all the bills but a couple of issues can prevent payment: Not receiving the bills quickly enough or lacking the fund to cover all of the bills.

“It is an issue of lack of state funding,” Pallasch said. “There’s not enough funding to cover all of the bills.”

In a letter to state legislators, Comptroller Susana Mendoza urged legislators to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of HB 3649, or the Debt Transparency Act, that would require the state to release a full and detailed accounting of state agency debt and financial obligations to be disclosed on a monthly basis.

“It is crucial that policymakers and the public have all the relevant information needed to make informed decisions regarding Illinois’ challenging fiscal situation,” Mendoza wrote. “Working families, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies alike plan carefully as to how they are going to meet their financial obligations and pay their bills. Our state government should be no different.”

Nick Draper can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1223, or on Twitter @nick_draper.