Levee panel, Corps split over labor agreement
- Written by TERRY HILLIG
The local agency responsible for restoring Metro East levees may take back responsibility for a major project in that effort over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to require a project labor agreement.
The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council is overseeing repairs and upgrades to the 74-mile levee system that protects the American Bottom – the Mississippi River floodplain that stretches from Alton to Columbia in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties. The area is home to 156,000 people and businesses that employ 55,000 workers.
A quarter-cent sales tax collected in the three counties since 2009 is paying for the work, aimed at restoring the levee systems to 100-year flood protection by 2015.
The council has established a policy of using project labor agreements for the work. A PLA is a pre-hire agreement that sets out wages, benefits and working conditions for a particular construction project.
Les Sterman, chief supervisor for the council, said PLAs are used for nearly every big construction project in southwestern Illinois.
“It’s generally accepted as good practice here,” he said. “It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a ‘big labor’ issue.”
Under a PLA, contractors, whether union or non-union, agree to its terms when they submit bids and unions agree not to strike for the duration of the job.
“(PLAs) have resulted in great stability in the workplace,” Sterman said. “They do not increase costs. They may even stimulate competition.”
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Officials warily eye wavering sales tax track
- Written by TERRY HILLIG
Metro East officials hope a decline in sales tax revenues that began last year is only temporary.
“We’re probably at 2010 levels,” said Les Sterman, chief supervisor for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. “It’s certainly an area of concern.”
Sluggish sales tax collections are a direct indicator of lackluster retail sales and affect state, county and municipal governments and local agencies like the flood prevention district that depend partially or entirely on those revenues to pay for services they provide.
Sales taxes provide a portion of revenues for counties, cities and villages but are the sole source of revenue for agencies like the flood prevention district and the Metro East Park and Recreation District, which receives a one-tenth-cent tax on retail sales in Madison and St. Clair counties.
The flood prevention district is in charge of repairs to the levees that protect the Mississippi River flood plain, which stretches from Alton to Columbia. A quarter-cent sales tax is collected in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties to fund the big repair project.
The district began receiving the tax in January 2009, in the depths of the recent recession. The tax brought in $10.3 million in 2009 and $11.0 million in 2010, an increase of nearly 7 percent.
“We saw a nice recovery after the recession,” Sterman said.
In 2011, however, revenue from the tax grew just
under 2 percent and in 2012 grew by only 0.26 percent. In June 2012, monthly receipts began coming in lower than the corresponding months in 2011, a trend that continued through June of this year with the exception of but one month.
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