Elgin City Council members heard some of the final presentations from staff members Wednesday in preparation for approving a 2013 budget and 2013-2017 financial plan.
The council has already heard plans for the riverboat and general funds -- the city's largest funds -- and turned Wednesday night to several smaller ones with additional information about user fees.
For the first time, the city will combine its water and sewer budgets into a single utility fund, a move Chief Financial Officer Colleen Lavery said will lend more flexibility to setting rates and paying for infrastructure projects.
Rates for water and sewer are being held constant in 2013, though they will rise in the later years of the financial plan. Lavery said a water and sewer rate study, expected to be funded and carried out next year, will recommend fees that encourage water conservation -- a change Councilwoman Anna Moeller supported because of cheaper infrastructure maintenance costs with reduced usage.
"It's important for us to look farther down the road on how much we can save the community with altering this model," Moeller said. "It'll show a cost savings to our residents."
The City of Elgin currently charges based on usage without any penalties or higher fees for using water at times when it is more expensive to process, for example.
Mayor David Kaptain said water provides the city with its single biggest economic development advantage compared to other communities. Elgin's water rates are lower than most of its peer cities because it pulls from the Fox River rather than Lake Michigan.
Like water and sewer fees, fees for leaf collection will also stay flat in 2013 but the refuse fee will increase 1.5 percent based on cost increases in the Waste Management contract. The city started to pass on the cost of refuse collection to residents in 2012 and will continue next year.
The golf fund, though, was perhaps the star of the budget discussion.
Last year council members were asked to vote on approving a contract with Carlucci Hospitality to run Porter's Pub at Bowes Creek Country Club and the city-owned golf course. Moeller, who voted against the contract, said she was glad to be proven wrong with news the restaurant is operating successfully and the golf fund is finishing the year with a profit -- enough to pay back some of what it borrowed in the past from the parks and recreation fund.
City Manager Sean Stegall emphasized that no taxpayer dollars are subsidizing golf operations at this time. And Kaptain added that many people come to Elgin from out of town to spend money at the golf course, which was named another economic development tool.
"That's exactly the discussion we had on this about a year ago, that that is where this would take us, and I'm glad to see it turned out well for everybody," Kaptain said.
The council will meet Dec. 5 for a final discussion of the budget before approving the document Dec. 14.