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Kadner: Is Tea Party for or against takeover of water system?

Daley

Daley

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Updated: September 22, 2012 6:21AM



In a hotbed of the Tea Party movement, residents are being asked to choose their government over a private company.

At issue is the municipality’s water system, which is operated by Illinois American Water and its sister agency, American Lake Water.

The village of Homer Glen has joined forces with four other suburbs (Bolingbrook, Woodridge, Romeoville and Lemont) to form the Northern Will County Water Agency in an effort to buy a water transmission line owned by American Lake Water that runs from Bedford Park to the five municipalities.

For years, water customers in those five suburbs have complained that their water rates are among the highest, if not the highest, in Illinois.

Illinois American Water contends that as a private company its prices are unfairly compared with government-operated water agencies, which are able to hide additional charges inside tax bills (the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, for example) instead of having them appear on water bills.

Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley contends American Water is a for-profit company that has a monopoly in his village and has gouged its customers to generate money for its shareholders.

He has also accused American Water officials of using underhanded tactics to rile up support for its position in Homer Glen.

I haven’t heard much from the Tea Party folks in Homer Glen, who generally oppose government interference in the marketplace, contending that governments are wasteful, incompetent and interfere unnecessarily in private enterprise.

Illinois American Water officials predict the efforts of the five suburbs to take over the water system will become a financial boondoggle.

That boondoggle would be caused in part by a long and costly court battle that Illinois American will fight to prevent the five municipalities from using their powers of eminent domain to force the sale of the water pipeline, which the water company does not want to sell.

I’ve been covering water controversies in Homer Glen since long before it incorporated in 2001.

I know some residents don’t care what it would cost to buy the water system; they simply want Illinois American Water out of their lives.

In recent weeks, a new group of Homer Glen residents, primarily those on well and septic systems, have come out against buying the water transmission line.

They wouldn’t benefit, they contend, since they don’t receive Lake Michigan water, and they fear someday they would be forced to tie into the system at great personal expense.

Village officials are getting ready to vote later this month on a $50 million bond issue ($25 million to be sold immediately, $25 million at some later date) that would be used in part to buy Homer Glen’s share of the transmission line from Bedford Park (at a cost of about $9 million).

The village would use a 1 percent home-rule sales tax estimated to generate $2.8 million in 2013 to finance the bond issue.

Further complicating the issue for Homer Glen is that unlike most of its neighboring suburbs, it does not own its own water distribution or sanitation network.

Illinois American Water owns the distribution network that brings water to homes and businesses in the community, while American Lake Water operates the transmission line.

Daley has indicated to village residents that if the cost of buying the transmission line gets out of hand at any point, Homer Glen can simply opt out of the Northern Will County Water Agency’s bid to buy the system.

After contacting the law firm representing the village, I think Daley may have oversimplified that process.

The water agency already has made a bid for the water transmission line, and to withdraw from the process now or at some future date it’s likely that Homer Glen would have to get the approval of at least two other villages that are members of the agency.

That would make sense since the water agency is dependent on all of its municipal members agreeing that it will be acting on their behalf during negotiations and future court proceedings.

In addition, American Water officials contend Homer Glen has committed to buying water from the Northern Will County Water Agency for 40 years at whatever rates that agency sets.

I would be interested to know if Tea Party advocates who use American Water in Homer Glen are opposed to, or in favor of, the village’s efforts to buy out the private utility company.

If opposed, how do they explain so many of their neighbors demanding that government intervene on their behalf?

Government is often portrayed as the enemy of the people, but often the people turn to the government as their only hope to combat powerful business interests.



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