Naperville officials take concerns to state lawmakers in yearly visit

<p>Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger speaks during the annual State of the City address at Tellabs in Naperville on Monday, January 24, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media</p>

Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger speaks during the annual State of the City address at Tellabs in Naperville on Monday, January 24, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

Naperville and DuPage County officials recently made their yearly trip to Springfield to discuss matters of local concern with state legislators.

Among the topics on the city representatives’ agenda was redevelopment of the Washington Street “eyesore” parcel between the Riverwalk and the Burger King. They also went to see staff members at the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, which some of them blame for the Naperville electric utility’s $14 million pool of red ink.

“We met with the executive director of IMEA and had a great meeting,” said David Wentz, who joined the City Council a year ago. “We met with the chief of staff for the governor, and also had a very educational time and good team-building at the time.”

In addition to Wentz, those who went on the annual lobbying excursion April 8 and 9 included Mayor A. George Pradel, council members Judith Brodhead, Steve Chirico, Doug Krause, Joe McElroy and Grant Wehrli, and City Manager Doug Krieger. Members of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference also made the trip.

The officials did not have an opportunity to air local grievances in the meeting with the electric agency.

“We couldn’t discuss anything specific to Naperville because of (limitations imposed by) the Open Meetings Act,” McElroy said in an email.

Krieger described the meeting at IMEA as generally informative and a way “to help the elected officials understand more of how they operate.” A member of the Public Utilities Advisory Board also sat in, Krieger said.

“It was really just an educational piece for the staff at IMEA to talk about what they do and their operations,” he said, reporting that the discussion seemed to have advanced the participants’ understanding of the cooperative arrangement, of which Naperville is the largest player. “It’s a very important topic, and we spend a lot of money there.”

The city’s cost for the electricity it purchases through IMEA has run significantly higher than what was projected in 2011, when a rate study helped determine what the municipal utility’s customers would pay for the coming several years. The added costs have been blamed on an assortment of factors, including unexpected fluctuations in energy prices on the open market and inefficient consumption of energy on the local level. Electric rates are scheduled to increase 6 percent on May 1 and another 7 percent a year later, to help erase the yawning budget gap.

Another locally important matter the visitors brought to Springfield was their quest for state funds to help meet the costs of contaminant remediation on the riverside parcel, where a long-vacant commercial building was razed in January 2013. Naperville is partnering with North Central College to redevelop the site as a park.

“The city had stepped forward, the lender had stepped forward, North Central had stepped forward to restore the site of the ugliest building in the city,” Krieger said.

Home at various times to a dry cleaning business, car dealerships, a laundromat, doughnut shop, restaurant, barber shop/salon and tax preparation business, the site requires cleanup under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

“The area had underground storage tanks,” Krieger said.

The officials also engaged in discussion of assorted legislative matters that could have local effect.

“There wasn’t one major, over arching theme,” Krieger said. “The thought was to go down there and talk with our local reps about municipal positions on the bills that they’ll be considering in the coming weeks.”

For the most part, he said, the lawmakers’ views align with those of the city, the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference and the Illinois Municipal League.

“A lot of them related to preservation of local revenues,” or keeping Naperville’s revenue in Naperville’s hands, and minimizing regulations that hinder local operations, Krieger said. “I think those things go hand in hand a lot of times.”