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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • State bill backlog decreases for Canton

  • CANTON — Things are looking up for the city of Canton, at least as far as its sewer bills are concerned.
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  • Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
    CANTON — Things are looking up for the city of Canton, at least as far as its sewer bills are concerned.
    The state of Illinois has long carried a balance with the municipality for sewer and water service at the Illinois River Correctional Center, and by the start of October 2011, that balance had ballooned to $233,000.
    By comparison, this month, the red ink totals a mere $77,000. The state has caught up, and is in fact only about four weeks behind on paying vouchers, officials with Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's office said last week.
    "We've been pretty fortunate," newly inaugurated Canton Mayor Jeff Fritz said Thursday. "(In general) they only lag behind two or three months. ... That's not uncommon for other businesses."
    And even against that benchmark, the state's doing well. The outstanding sewer bills from the city awaiting payment are dated April 17, comptroller spokesman Brad Hahn said.
    The improvement came in large part because state income tax revenue was stronger than expected, meaning more cash was available in the treasury to pay down what's owed, shaving the debt from $6.5 billion to $3.1 billion throughout April.
    Hahn said the amount owed to vendors is down from $9 billion last fall to only about $5 billion today, though he cautioned this is simply the low point of the year. The amount varies based on available funds and number of bills on hand, and it's expected to climb as the fiscal year marches toward its conclusion on June 30.
    The heftier balances weren't crippling the city, or even its water and sewer operations — which operate on an annual budget in the $6 million range — but at the time it was nearing a quarter-million bucks, it had become substantially inconvenient.
    Then-city manager Jim Snider spoke at the time of being "basically of at the mercy" of the state's sporadic payments, with worries of how the city would have to cope by dipping into its reserves if the unpaid bills continued over five months or longer.
    Today, while the state still owes funds, "right now it's manageable," Fritz said.
    In fact, he praises the generally good relationship between the state — and officials running the prison — and the city, and recognizes that as far as bumps in the road go, things have improved.
    Chris Kaergard can be reached at (309) 686-3135 or ckaergard@pjstar.com.
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