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Kadner: Homer Glen Tea Party leader opposes water purchase

Updated: September 25, 2012 10:49AM



Tea Party members in Homer Glen oppose the village’s attempt to purchase a water transmission line owned by a private company, according to one of the group’s founding members.

Steve Balich, Homer Township clerk and an organizer of the Homer-Lockport Tea Party, said he’s also opposed to the village using its power of eminent domain to force the sale of the water line owned by American Lake Water Co., which is a sister agency of Illinois American Water.

“Our water bills our excessive, there’s no doubt about that,” Balich said. “But if government uses its powers of eminent domain in this case, what’s to prevent it from taking over a gas station because its prices are too high? I don’t think governments should be using this power to take over private businesses.”

Homer Glen officials are considering an ordinance that would allow the village to sell up to $50 million in bonds to finance capital projects, with about $9 million of an initial $25 million bond used to purchase a portion of the American Lake Water line that carries Lake Michigan water from Bedford Park to five southwest suburbs.

Those five communities (Homer Glen, Bolingbrook, Lemont, Romeoville and Woodridge) have formed the Northern Will County Water Agency to purchase and operate the water distribution system. Although the agency has made an offer to buy the line, American Lake Water officials have said they have no interest in selling it.

Attorneys for Homer Glen have said the towns would use eminent domain to force a court to determine a purchase price.

“This $50 million bond issue will supposedly be paid for with the 1 percent home-rule sales tax in the village,” Balich said. “But these are not revenue bonds, which would be backed only by the sales tax. These are general obligation bonds, and that means property taxes are guaranteed to pay the bondholders.

“The Tea Party is opposed to any tax increase on people. Taxpayers are paying more than their fair share of taxes already, and governments have demonstrated they are often irresponsible and wasteful.

“The village claims it would be a more efficient operator of the water system than a private company, but I think we all have learned that governments are not efficient.

“Employees would have to be hired to run this water agency. Would they be union employees, paid not at the union rates of employees in the private sector but at government union rates, which include pensions and benefits that are far more costly to taxpayers?

“And the only people guaranteed to make money on this deal are the lawyers, the ones who will be suing Illinois American Water, and the lawyers handling the bond issue.”

Homer Glen also plans to spend about $6.4 million of the initial $25 million to make improvements in residential subdivisions that developers left incomplete after the economy collapsed.

“I think the government should be going after those developers to pay for sidewalks, streets, whatever, in those areas,” Balich said. “They own homes, I’m sure. Place a lien on their homes. Go after their companies. Make them pay for this, not the taxpayers.”

I called out the Homer Glen Tea Party in a recent column, wondering how its members felt about their village officials attempting to stop the price gouging of local residents by a giant utility company. Tea Party members are usually anti-tax, anti-government and pro-business.

I also wondered why Homer Tea Party activists had been silent on the water issue, but Balich contends that he has been writing letters to newspapers and aggressively opposing the takeover of the utility.

However, when I asked Balich how he would resolve the problem of excessive water charges by the utility company, he said, “I don’t have a solution. But I do think the village should rebate a portion of that home-rule sales tax revenue to the people who live here.”

Village officials contend that the property tax would never have to be used to finance the bond issue because Homer Glen raises more than enough money from its local sales tax. In addition, general obligation bonds carry a lower interest rate.

However, property tax revenue is used to guarantee bondholders’ investments.

“We don’t even know what the second $25 million, the other half of that bond issue, would be used for,” Balich said. “Just give us the money and trust us, is what they’re saying.

“I say the people should be allowed to vote. Put it on a referendum. Let the people decide.”

But Homer Glen is now part of the new water agency and signed a contract to that effect.

Village residents don’t seem to understand that.



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