Sunday, September 11, 2011

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McHenry County Board mulls referendum to lower electricity rates

Is this something which Boone County’s board should look into?

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County Board mulls referendum to lower electricity rates


WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board may put a referendum on the ballot asking unincorporated residents whether they want the county to seek lower electrical rates on their behalf.

Voters in Harvard and Fox River Grove already have approved the idea. Should it go before rural voters next March and pass, the county then could bundle willing residential and small-business accounts into one and shop around competitively for electricity.

The board’s Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee will discuss a possible referendum after talking Thursday with David Hoover, executive director of the Northern Illinois Municipal Electric Collaborative. Hoover said that residential and commercial users in municipalities that have done so have saved an average of 23 percent on their electric bills.

Recent legislation has allowed municipalities and other governments to “aggregate” their users and shop around for the best deal, if approved by voter referendum. Voters in all but four of the 23 municipalities that have asked the question have approved it.

“To me, that’s really changed the game,” Hoover said.

The committee intends to invite Hoover to speak before the County Board at its Oct. 4 meeting, and could decide at its Oct. 18 meeting whether to put the issue on the ballot. If approved, it would affect only the county’s 70,000 or so unincorporated residents.

Governments have until Jan. 3 to put a referendum on the March 20 ballot, County Administrator Peter Austin said. If approved, any resident wanting an opt-out can stay with ComEd as their provider.

Committee Chairman James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, said he would like to invite McHenry County municipal leaders should Hoover talk before the County Board. Austin, who regularly meets with local city managers and village administrators, said talk of following Harvard’s and Fox River Grove’s lead was growing.

Hoover gave a similar presentation to the Marengo City Council last month.

“So often we talk about spending more, maybe we should talk about saving more,” Heisler said.

About a dozen energy suppliers are authorized to sell to residential consumers, Hoover said. Committee member Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, said she was concerned about future savings if smaller providers were acquired by big ones and “we’re right back to a monopoly.”

Hoover said consumers always would have an option of sticking with or going back to ComEd.

“Belvidere May have too many schools in five years”

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Neighboring ZIP codes absorb Rockford exodus

The latest release of 2010 census data proves what anyone driving around the Rock River Valley already knows — the population is moving.
The U.S. Census Bureau released population changes from 2000 to 2010 broken down by ZIP code. In Winnebago County, just two major ZIP codes lost population. Downtown Rockford east of the river, 61104, fell by nearly 6 percent. And 61101, which is Rockford’s northwest side, declined by 8.1 percent. And of those Rockford ZIP codes that did see population growth, not one saw even 10 percent growth.
For much of the decade, the moving vans were heading to such places as Poplar Grove and Belvidere, where populations grew by 35.8 and 17.3 percent, respectively, and Winnebago, up 20.4 percent.
Both the Belvidere and North Boone school districts in Boone County felt the crunch of new families flocking to their areas. Belvidere built a new middle school and a second high school. North Boone expanded an elementary school, built a new high school and put on an addition to the old high school.
Michael Houselog was superintendent of North Boone for much of the decade and now is the superintendent of Belvidere. In the 2000-01 school year, Belvidere had 6,352 students and North Boone 1,283. By 2007, Belvidere’s student population surged to 8,728 and North Boone’s to 1,686.
But in the wake of the Great Recession, the growth rate has slowed. In 2010, Belvidere was up to 9,001 and North Boone to 1,746.
And Houselog said that unless the economy revives and people begin returning to Boone County, Belvidere is going to have too many schools within five years.
“This year, our three smallest grades are kindergarten, first and second grade,” Houselog said. “This will put it in into context. In 2005, we had more than 700 kids in kindergarten. This year we have 485.”
Still, Houselog is confident that Boone County will become a destination of choice again.
“The things that made this a desirable place haven’t changed. We have lower tax rates than what you’ll find in the Chicago area. Having (Interstate 90) coming through our county allows easy access to Rockford, Madison, Chicago,” he said. “When the economy turns, we think it’ll turn here first. The question is when.”
While the once hot growth areas wait for another boom, Krause said the aging areas of Rockford are waiting on something else — reinvestment.
“In Chicago, there are a number of aging neighborhoods that have done well because developers took industrial buildings and turned them into condos,” Krause said. “Part of the reason they took that risk is because prices in Chicago’s suburbs had increased so much that it made sense to reinvest in the older neighborhoods. That could happen here, but so many developers were hurt by the recession that few are ready to take that risk in Rockford.”
Krause said there have been some residential redevelopment success stories in Rockford, such as the Brown building downtown and the Garrison Lofts & Town Homes, but much more is needed to persuade retailers to come back as well.
Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached at or at 815-987-1339 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 815-987-1339 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

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