Homer Glen approves bond sale
BY MICHELLE MULLINS Correspondent August 29, 2012 6:26PM
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:12PM
With 250 concerned residents on hand, the Homer Glen Village Board on Tuesday authorized the sale of up to $25 million in general obligation bonds.
But the board initially plans to sell $17 million worth, for capital improvement projects that include an attempt to acquire a Lake Michigan water transmission line. Village officials want to acquire the line and a water delivery system from a private company because they believe they can stabilize residents’ water bills.
The $25 million in bonds is half the amount the village proposed authorizing weeks ago, and the $17 million they plan to sell initially is down from $25 million.
All six board members and some residents who spoke during the four-hour meeting said the original totals were too high, as the bonds are backed by the village’s home-rule sales tax, which could fluctuate.
Trustee George Yukich cast the sole “no” vote, saying he believed even the reduced figures still were too high. Trustee Margaret Sabo abstained.
Village officials have outlined $24 million in capital improvement projects, including nearly $9 million to pay for Homer Glen’s portion of a potential takeover of the American Lake Water transmission line that supplies Lake Michigan water to the village.
Another $2.6 million is earmarked to pay for traffic signals, multi-use paths, lighting and planted medians for the 159th Street widening project. Improved public amenities in subdivisions that weren’t finished after the economy collapsed would cost $6.5 million, and another $6.1 million would pay for the Fiddyment Creek sanitary and sewer line.
Trustees on Tuesday indicated they do not favor all of the projects, but most favor the 159th Street improvements and the attempt to take over the water transmission line.
Residents have long complained about the price of water, and the board is studying the viability of taking over the transmission line and the local distribution system owned by Illinois American Water, an affiliate of American Lake Water.
Trustee Mary Niemiec said Homer Glen residents pay about $100 more per month for Lake Michigan water than those in nearby Mokena. A homeowner using 10,000 gallons of water a month pays $225, an increase of more than $90 in seven years, she said.
“Monopolies that own critical life necessities should be accountable and transparent,” she said.
The Northern Will County Water Agency, which includes Homer Glen and four other towns, has offered American Lake Water $34 million for the transmission line, but company officials said it’s not for sale and that the attempt to acquire it will result in an expensive eminent domain case.
After Tuesday’s vote on the bond issue, Illinois American Water senior manager Michael Smyth said in a statement that “it’s unfortunate village officials ignored the concerns of residents and our company in passing the bond ordinance. The village’s action ... to fund its estimated $9 million portion of the Bedford Park water transmission line takeover is just one of many steps in a very long, costly and risky eminent domain process.”
Sixteen residents offered varying viewpoints on the bond issue during public comments. Some urged the board to put the bond issue on the November ballot as a referendum question. Others encouraged village officials to pursue the water takeover to reduce the high rates, while still others expressed concerns the village was taking on too much debt in weak economic times.
“The shadow of eminent domain makes me very fearful,” resident Marie Harmer said.
Resident Alan Puchalski said he does not feel comfortable giving the village “an open checkbook.”
“There’s no end in sight to what the cost will be,” he said. “You are gambling with our money.”
Resident Steve Gallagher said he believed the village could help stabilize high water rates and frequent increases.
“(Illinois American Water) has been in our pockets for a long time with not-so-good service and exorbitant rates,” he said.
The village plans to take advantage of historically low interest rates and a AA rating from Standard & Poor’s to secure the bond money cheaply, according to Bill Hofherr, senior vice president of George K. Baum and Co., the village’s bond counsel. The bonds will be paid for via the village’s 1 percent home-rule sales tax, which is projected to bring in about $2.9 million in fiscal year 2013.
The village does not have a municipal tax, and village officials said there will be sufficient sales tax revenue to pay off the bonds. Village officials said they won’t levy a property tax on residents to pay for the bonds.