LAPEL — Lapel has not raised its gas rates for residents since 1997.
Two council members have opposing views on whether that will be possible after the council voted to hire a company to help manage the town utility.
The town had two proposals before them from Illinois-based USDI for regular maintenance and inspection.
By a vote of 3-2, the council chose the agreement with the lower cost, a three-year contract to ensure continuity of service and that equipment is up to the proper state and federal codes, a facet of the utility that requires a certain expertise, President Michael Cates said.
“We own our own gas company,” he said. “They’re going to make sure we have all our regulations and paperwork taken care of, that way we won’t have to worry about it. That’s what they do, and we want to make sure all our bases are covered.”
USDI, with its main office in Olney, Illinois, provides natural gas engineering and utility services in the Midwest.
Cates said customers in Lapel are the top priority.
“The well-being of everyone in town, knowing that everything is safe and secure is of the utmost importance here,” he said. “That’s why we decided to vote to pay them to come in and maintain our gas lines and (make sure) our certifications are in compliance. The peace of mind is worth every penny. And we didn’t have to raise any meter prices.”
Council member Deb Wainscott, who voted against the proposal, said she believes rates will increase for residents.
“It will be done by raising the rates,” she said. “The fees will be passed on to the residents. I understood that the cost would be a substantial increase to each resident’s bill, between 12 and 16 dollars (per month), I think.”
In addition to the increase, Wainscott said she objected also to turning control over to a business outside of the town.
“It will still belong to the town of Lapel, but we’re paying someone else to take care of that for us,” she said. “I’d just rather hire another employee or see where we stand with the employee we have.”
The town employee who normally handles compliance is on medical leave for an undetermined length of time.
In other business:
• The council decided on the heavy trash pick-up day for the month of May. To avoid interference with recycling pick-up, the council chose May 10.
• The planning commission approved the building of a home in the Brookside 2 addition. They also asked the police to join with them in sending letters requesting compliance from an owner of buildings that are in deterioration at 110 S. Ford.
• Police chief Michael Barnes said two reserve officers, Anthony Guzman and Derek Gruell, are expected to complete training and begin to serve the town in April. He said both officers have law enforcement experience but need to be brought up to speed on Madison County ordinances as well as general knowledge of the community.
• Ridge Abraham, who has worked part-time doing odd jobs for the town during the summer and while on breaks at school, will be retained by the town to continue doing so this summer. The council also voted to increase his pay from $10 per hour to $11 per hour.
• The council asked that requests from residents for the addition of street lights be referred to the planning commission.