Coal City handing out $25 certificates

THE COAL CITY Village Board took steps to distance themselves during the March 18 meeting. Trustees and village officials were sperate around the room and two trustees participated remotely.

Ann Gill

Residential utility customers in the village of Coal City will be receiving a bill and a bonus in the mail next week. The bi-monthly utility bill due to arrive April 1 will contain a $25 Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry gift certificate. This is not an April Fool’s prank. Coal City Village Administrator Matt Fritz reports the village has looked at providing some type of incentive for residents and local business support in the past and given the unprecedented circumstances with COVID-19, it seems like the perfect time. “The economic message for local businesses is grim and providing a small stimulus amount will show the village board is dedicated to providing support,” Fritz told town trustees. The concept of providing some incentive to residents and businesses has been around since the June 2015 tornado and village officials had recently addressed the idea as a way to encourage citizens to visit businesses impacted by the reconstruction of South Broadway. But now that a number of businesses have been forced to close or modify business operations, Fritz said now is the best time to act and move forward. Fritz said the village board hopes residents would treat the incentive as a 50/50 program meaning they spend twice as much as being given. Additionally, town officials want to see the certificates used locally. “I am absolutely aware people may not do that, but it’s an opportunity to support the local community,” Fritz said. Trustee Tim Bradley, who supported the measure, had an alternate idea to the gift certificates and that was providing residential utility users with a $25 bill credit. “The reason I raised that about the certificate, I think, it’s the same thing just how you do it. We’re giving them $25,” said Bradley, who chairs the village’s Finance Committee. “Myself, I would prefer doing what Tim was saying, giving $25 off the water bill. I understand we want people to spend money in town, they still get an extra $25 if we take it from the water bill, it’s an extra $25,” said Trustee Ross Bradley, who indicated that savings could then be utilized for other expenses. Mayor Terry Halliday questioned the economics of providing residents with both a $25 gift certificate to support small business and a $25 bill credit to assist residents. The cost for one incentive is $60,000. To do both, the village would expend $120,000. The funds would come from two separate municipal accounts—general and water and sewer. “If it’s an option take $25 off the water bill and give $25 in a gift certificate. I don’t know if that’s feasible or if it’s the right thing to do. But if we’re worried about people’s longevity and if we’re worried about a household’s longevity and the businesses’ longevity, then it almost has to be two fold. Cut them a break on their utilities and help them put food back on the table and help the businesses out too,” said Trustee Sarah Beach. Beach pointed out that providing a bill credit would not have a direct impact on local business nor help residents impacted by lost jobs or lower incomes during this pandemic “I think what he’s saying is you could take that $25 you would pay on the water bill to put to something else,” Halliday responded. Beach indicated it’s not a guarantee those funds would be used locally to help small businesses, a key part of the village’s plan. After significant discussion on both proposals, Halliday reiterated the concept is to help residents and businesses. “So I think the gift certificates are the best scenario, the more I think through it,” he said. All six trustees agreed and directed the village administrator to secure the necessary certificates for distribution within the utility bill. Halliday made it clear that $60,000 in certificates certainly won’t keep small businesses open, but it’s an attempt by the village to help them by getting residents in the doors. In a plea to residents to support local small businesses, the mayor noted the funds being used are taxpayer dollars and the purpose is to help the town’s business owners and residents. “Please patronize local businesses,” Halliday said.