KANKAKEE — Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong is not saying whether the city historically overcharged the regional sewage treatment plant for lab services, noting she became mayor only a couple years ago.
In her monthly video on the city’s website, Wells-Armstrong responded to the allegation that the city may have overbilled the treatment plant, which is run by the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency.
If the city overcharged for the services, that would have hit the pocketbooks of sewer ratepayers in Kankakee, Bourbonnais, Bradley and Aroma Park.
Last month, Kankakee reduced its lab charges to the plant by 40 percent, to $360,000, from $580,000. This was after the sewer plant sought bids from outside companies. With the competition, Kankakee returned with the far lower figure.
In her video, Wells- Armstrong, who was recently appointed as the KRMA board’s chairman, said she could not speak to the calculations before she arrived as mayor in May 2017.
“(The other) municipalities have had a representative at the table and always have since KRMA became a facility,” the mayor said. “When prices were negotiated with board members at the time, they all had the opportunity to address concerns with costs and such.”
Wells-Armstrong also said Kankakee has a big capital investment in the sewer plant, which may have been a factor in the higher-than-market lab costs.
She said her predecessor as chairman, then-Bradley Mayor Bruce Adams, asked about the lab bills from the city.
In response, the mayor said, board members wanted “to be fair and efficient with everyone. Everyone sharpened their pencils a little bit, so we were able to come up with some savings.”
As mayor, Wells-Armstrong appoints four of the seven KRMA board members.
In her statement, Wells-Armstrong did not address the role of Richard Simms, who was KRMA’s longtime executive director until last year. He was also the city’s superintendent of environmental services. That means Simms, who is now under federal investigation, was on both sides of the lab transactions.
After last month’s KRMA meeting, Bradley Finance Director Rob Romo, the village’s representative on the board, raised the issue of lab fees at a village board meeting. He talked about the possibility of getting some of the lab money back from Kankakee because of “potential overbilling.”
The city’s lab operates under the sewer plant’s roof.
Simms is embroiled in a dispute with both KRMA and the city overbilling them nearly $1.4 million for software that reportedly does not work.
Also in her monthly video, Wells-Armstrong:
• Said she didn’t believe any other mayor in the area was as transparent as she was. She also said she was working to increase the transparency of KRMA and the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau; she recently took the helm of both. Neither KRMA nor the visitors bureau put its meeting agendas or minutes online.
• Pointed out that the city began live streaming City Council meetings after she became mayor. Kankakee County and Manteno do the same, but Bradley and Bourbonnais do not. Bradley was providing video of its meetings last year, but stopped in November.
• Noted the city has balanced its budgets since she became mayor a couple years ago. She credited her predecessor, Nina Epstein, with doing the same.