Kadner: Price of water is key to Homer Glen’s future
PHIL KADNER email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 August 15, 2012 10:40PM
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:59PM
Most of us take water for granted. That’s not the case in Homer Glen, which has some of the highest water rates in Illinois.
An overflow crowd of more than 200 people filled village hall and spilled outside Tuesday night to protest a planned $50 million bond issue that would allow the village, in part, to purchase a water system ... in part.
The fact is the village isn’t planning to purchase the entire water system on its own, but would be one of five suburbs that would try to buy a transmission line from Bedford Park that is owned by American Lake Water.
The water distribution system in Homer Glen, which includes three wastewater treatment plans, pumping stations and the lines that run throughout the village, are owned by Illinois American Water.
Both Illinois American Water and American Lake Water are owned by parent company American Water.
While state law allows the suburbs to create a Northern Will County Water Agency, American Water doesn’t want to sell its water systems to the suburbs, which would have to use their power of eminent domain to purchase the transmission line by court decree.
That could take years.
Even if American Lake Water can be forced to sell, no one can predict what price the court may decide is fair.
And there’s another key piece to the puzzle: Unlike the older suburbs involved — Bolingbrook, Woodridge, Romeoville and Lemont — Homer Glen (founded in 2001) doesn’t own any of its own infrastructure, those pumping stations, treatment plants and pipes that run to the homes and businesses.
To purchase all of that could cost a lot more money down the road and require a large public works department to maintain.
That’s part of the reason Homer Glen is pondering a $50 million bond issue instead of one that would merely pay its share for the water transmission line, estimated at $8 million to $9 million.
Why would a village even consider such a massive undertaking when so many residents appear to oppose it?
Only three or four residents on Tuesday raised their hands when a member of the audience asked for a show of support for the bond issue.
It appeared to me most of the residents in attendance have well and septic systems (about 20 percent of Homer Glen residents don’t get Lake Michigan water).
They made it clear they see no benefit from purchasing the water transmission line and fear they will be forced to connect to the system at great cost down the road.
Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley allowed them substantial time to air their views and attempted to allay their fears, with little success, in my opinion.
His contention is that 80 percent of the residents, those who get water from the American Water subsidiaries, want to purchase the system and didn’t turn out for the meeting because they had made their opinions clear in many previous gatherings.
I attended some of those meetings years ago and can say those crowds were far larger.
But those people were talking theoretically about taking over the water system back then, and now the reality is setting in.
I have a suggestion for the mayor when the village holds its big meeting on Aug. 28.
Let Trustee Mary Niemiec begin the session with her presentation on the subject.
Niemiec has been the point person for the village on water issues for about a decade. She has studied it thoroughly, and while her factual presentation on Tuesday may not have changed any minds, it impressed even those who oppose the purchase.
She described in detail the excessive water charges Homer Glen residents endure that are unique to that suburb and said residents are paying twice as much as people in nearby Mokena.
But she too failed to address the problems of acquiring the distribution system, which are at the root of most of the extra charges Homer Glen residents see on their bills.
Acquiring the transmission line would solve only a small part of the problem with water costs in Homer Glen, as far as I could determine.
There other factors that complicate this issue.
The village would authorize the sale of $50 million in general obligation bonds backed by a 1 percent home-rule sales tax in Homer Glen.
But it has plans to initially sell only a $25 million bond issue, using about $9 million for its share of the transmission line.
Millions more of that initial bond issue would be spent on other capital projects in the village, which all have their share of detractors.
The second $25 million would be withheld for future use. The implication is that it might be used to acquire the water distribution system, but village officials wouldn’t commit to that.
Homer Glen needs to control its water system to control its destiny. But village officials must convince residents they know what they’re doing.