Kadner: Good government isn’t perfect and sure ain’t pretty
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 August 29, 2012 8:48PM
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:11PM
Would people know good government if they saw it?
I’m not sure, but I suppose it depends largely on your definition of good government.
For most people, a government that’s good is one that does exactly what they want it to do. And my guess is most of the 250 people attending a Homer Glen Village Board meeting Tuesday night didn’t get that.
After more than two hours of often-heated public comment, the village board voted to sell $17 million in bonds and authorize an additional $8 million more if needed.
At least half of the initial $17 million (likely more) will be used in an attempt to buy part of a water transmission pipeline owned by American Lake Water.
Homer Glen has joined with four other suburbs to form a water agency that has offered $34 million for the transmission line, but American Lake Water has indicated that it will not sell. That would mean a lengthy and potentially costly legal battle as the five suburbs seek to force the sale of the pipeline using the power of eminent domain.
For more than a decade, Homer Glen residents have complained loudly about paying the highest water rates in the state. They have also complained about the callous response of Illinois American Water, a sister utility company, to customer complaints.
Mayor Jim Daley believes he was elected with a mandate to force the utility to reduce its prices or to force a municipal takeover of the utility company.
After years of what Daley has called fruitless negotiations, the village board pondered issuing two separate $25 million bond issues to take over part of the water system and invest in a number of other capital improvement projects.
That’s when another group of people starting coming out to board meetings in large numbers.
About 20 percent of Homer Glen’s households are on well and septic systems and don’t use Illinois American Water. Those folks made it clear to village officials at two public meetings that they didn’t want the village to spend millions of dollars acquiring the system, especially if the bonds were guaranteed by property tax revenue.
The mayor and other elected officials explained repeatedly that the bonds could be paid off over 13 years using an existing 1 percent home-rule sales tax, estimated to raise about $2.8 million next year. But the general obligation bonds would ultimately put property tax revenue on the line if the sales tax money wasn’t enough.
Illinois American Water and its sister agency fueled the anti-tax furor by distributing literature and making robocalls to residents, suggesting financial disaster for the village if it pursued acquiring the water line.
A few exasperated residents Tuesday night expressed frustration with neighbors who would take the side of a water agency that they said had repeatedly misled customers, engaged in price gouging and, as one man said, were “only interested in lining their own pockets.”
But water wasn’t the only issue at this meeting.
The village board planned to use some of that bond money to build sewers near Interstate 355 to encourage commercial development.
Several million dollars more would be spent on nine housing subdivisions that builders had simply walked away from (leaving landscaping, sidewalks and other work unfinished) during the economic recession.
And millions more were earmarked to pay for streetlighting, landscaping and other amenities as part of the village’s share of a 159th Street widening project that would largely be paid for by the state.
Many residents said they didn’t like one or the other of those projects and, as it eventually turned out, the village board was divided on those as well.
So after the public was done having its say, village trustees decided they weren’t comfortable with the $50 million bond issue, said they didn’t need to finance all of the capital projects and pared the bond issue down to $17 million, with another $8 million possibly later.
They said acquiring the water transmission line would be a priority. So would the 159th Street project. And there were flooding issues that needed to be addressed with the money.
Instead of committing $2.8 million in sales tax revenue each year to pay off the bonds, it would take only about $2 million.
So the village board heard its critics, embraced some of what they had to say and ignored a lot of it. Trustees sure didn’t make everyone happy.
They used the best information at hand to make what they felt was the best decision for Homer Glen.
I can’t say their decision was the right one.
But it sure seemed like good government to me.