By Devese “Dee” Ursery, Reporter
Collinsville council members on Dec. 13 passed an ordinance authorizing Mayor John Miller to sign a Distributed Energy Resource Agreement with Voltus, Inc.
The energy curtailment agreement will allow the city to receive payment from Voltus to cut back on energy usage at the water and wastewater treatment plants. That will be done by switching to generator power when the city’s electrical grid is threatened with blackouts or brownouts due to high energy demands.
Public works director Dennis Kress explained the process of distributed energy resourcing.
“It is the practice of the power grid operator to bundle small-energy providers and high-energy users together in a group,” Kress said. ”In doing so they ask the group to either increase production or curtail their energy usage.”
Kress said should the city get called on to curtail our energy usage, the wastewater plant will switch over to generator power and stop pulling energy from the grid.
“When that happens the city would get an advanced notice and the wastewater plant would shut down for four hours and run on generator power,” he said.
Under terms of the 24-month contract Collinsville will receive $27,000 annually per megawatt of energy demand that can be removed from the grid by the city. Voltus will pay an additional $2,000 per hour per megawatt saved.
“For every hour that we shut down they will pay us an additional $2,000,” Kress said. “Every time that they call us to reduce consumption we can get paid up to $8,000 per event.”
In addition to what Voltus would pay, they would also reimburse the city for the diesel fuel the city uses to run the generators. The only cost to the city would be $300 per month for monitoring fees of the devices for the meters that go to the electric services.
Kress said If the city was not in this program and there was a blackout, the city would be switching to generator power regardless.
“So, not only are we getting paid to switch to generator power, we’re saving money that we would be paying toward running those generators,” he said.
According to Kress the city is not obligated to increase production or curtail usage when called upon to do so. The city will not be assessed fees for under performance or non-participation during a curtailment request, according to the contract.
Kress said the only downside he would see is not being enrolled in the program. Mitch Bair, city manager, explained his and other city staffers’ skepticism when the program was brought to their attention.
“We all challenged each other to find the downside and there really was no downside,” Blair said. “ We’re not obligated and we get paid.”
In the public speakers portion of the meeting, Kevin Wrigley, resident of Collinsville expressed a couple of concerns. First, he requested that the Council table the item regarding drones to give residents time to look over use cases.
“I have not seen the use cases and don’t think any of the residents have seen the use cases,” Wrigley said. “I ask that we table this item to get a little bit more time to maybe take a look at and see what we think about it as residents.”
Wrigley’s second concern is the amount of money he said is being spent by the city in this recession. He argued that most of the businesses he knows are trying to make some preparation for the potential down trend that everybody is predicting.
“I’m seeing it in my industry and in my client’s industries as well, but we are pretty much pedal to the metal when it comes to the budget,” Wrigley said.
Wrigley said with the Tax Increment Fund district expired there is a massive influx of assessed value that has increased the assessed value in the city. He asserted that Collinsville was in its sixth consecutive year of increasing the tax levy, alleging that it’s up another 2.75%.
Wrigley also contends the big deal with all the sales tax revenue was that the city was supposed to be able to offset some of the property sales tax. Wrigley had other numbers to support his claims but failed to reveal where he got them from. Collinsville is in record territory as far as spending is concerned, he said.
Wrigley said city salaries are going up another $2 million, which is about an 11% increase and the general overall budget is about a 38% increase or $18 million. The General Fund Portion of the budget is 13.4% increase or another $4.1 million.
He also contended that the city is getting more income tax revenue than ever before hitting the $4 million. The city is getting a windfall on the utility tax as well and he believes more of that money should go back to the residents of the city.
Several council members had rebuttals or comments regarding Wrigley’s assertion of the city’s alleged irresponsible and random spending. Councilman David Jerome began by refuting Wrigley’s claim that the Council is spending randomly on projects.
“I want to set the record straight,” Jerome said. “These projects have been in the works since 2007-2008. All of these have been slow-moving projects because we were working out the grant money and various other sources.”
Jerome said now that the resources are there the city can move forward with projects that have been long in planning. “No one is trying to rush into anything randomly, some of these projects are seven to eight years old that we’re just now bringing to fruition,” he said.
Councilman Donna Green also commented on Wrigley’s statement of alleged irresponsible spending. She said that what made her run for council was the fact the city leaders did nothing to help the city or its residents. Council and city staff are doing everything they can to take care of this community and improve on it for the residents responsibly, she said.
“When I got on the Council we had inadequate equipment for our fire department,” Green said. “That’s just one example of the things that city leaders did not take care of. They did not take care of this town for the residents.”
City manager Mitch Bair and Dustin Ziebold had rebuttals for Wrigley’s numbers.
Bair said that he was confused by Wrigley’s numbers because the 2022 property tax rate is .7293 and in the year 2023 it will drop to .6715. With the return of $50 million to the base equalized based value the Council made the decision and did what it said it would do, if home-rule status remained. And that was to keep the property tax rate low so people will pay less in property tax.
“We are getting a whole $86,000 more than we got in 2022,” Bair said. “That’s all going to the Police and Firefighter Pension funds. We are getting the same exact amount, $225,000 out of the $3.2 million property tax.”
Ziebold said when you look at the overall increase to our expenditures, $4.26 million is strictly a debt payment above and beyond what we’ve done in prior years.
“Yeah, we’re absolutely jacking that budget up because we have to,” he said. ”That will take one Collinsville Cross bond issuance and eliminate it completely.
The second one is a List bond and that’s a $1.31 million payout.
“We are attacking that one to ensure we stay on the timeline for the Collinsville Crossing bonds,” Ziebold said.
Ziebold explained when you look at the Unassigned Fund Balance, it will also jack the city’s revenue up. He stated that they are taking money out of the UFB and transferring it to the city’s Capital fund. Those funds are being used strategically to get those projects done.
Ziebold said there are places within the budgets where revenues have increased. But those predictions are based on a million and one factors, not just whether there’s a recession or not, he said.
“There is hours and hours of work going into this budget,” Ziebold said. “And while some may disagree, this is a great budget and we are strong. Recession may come, but we will adjust. That’s what you guys pay me for, I will when we see problems and we will attack the problem immediately.”
Council passed an ordinance for Mayor John Miller to execute a Master Services and Purchasing Agreement with Axon Enterprise, Inc. for the acquisition of drones. Also the necessary licensing for the use of the Unmanned Aerial Systems within Axon’s drone management platform. This project will cost $82,596, through 2025, according to Sean Seckler, director of IT.
The drone technologies will be used to aid city departments in their operations. The drones would be used for situational awareness for emergency management services, primarily fire events. Also real-time event coverage, search and rescue operations, primarily fire events and infrastructure inspection.
Seckler said that staff would like to have a drone that gives our staff the opportunity to get in some piloting time without risking the more expensive hardware.
Mayor Miller swore in two new police officers Sergio Perez and Jacob Besserman.
Chief Steve Evans introduced both to the Council. Officer Besserman came directly from the St. Louis Police Department and Officer Perez came directly from Fairmont City. Perez also started with the Collinsville Police Department as a citizen police aid.