Boulder Hill water project, rate hike questioned : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Boulder Hill water project, rate hike questioned |
|Montgomery officials cite frequent main breaks as factor in higher rates |
|by John Etheredge|
Up until a few years ago, the Village of Montgomery charged residents of the unincorporated Boulder Hill Subdivision twice as much for their water as village residents.
Now many Boulder Hill residents are wondering where the extra money they paid the village went.
Prompting the question is a village proposal to raise water rates approximately $15 per month for Boulder Hill residents to finance an $8 million water main replacement project in the subdivision.
At an open house on the project held at Boulder Hill Elementary School last Thursday night, several Boulder Hill residents could be heard asking village officials and their engineering consultants why they are now faced with the prospect of a water rate increase.
About 70 Boulder Hill residents attended the open house.
"I'd like to know where all that money went, did it go into a slush fund or something?" one Boulder Hill resident asked Mike Pubentz, the village's director of public works.
"I can tell you where it went. It went towards the operation and the maintenance of the water system," Pubentz said.
The village provides water service to 2,830 households in Boulder Hill under terms of an agreement approved by the village board and Don L. Dise, Inc., subdivision developer in 1958.
That agreement set water rates for Boulder Hill residents at one and one-half times the rates village residents paid. The village began charging Boulder Hill residents double the rates they charge to village residents in 1974 to finance the construction of a water tower and well on the village's east side that serves the subdivision, according to a 1982 study prepared by then-village engineer Paul Schuch.
Boulder Hill residents continued to pay double water rates until 2008, when the village board implemented a water rate hike for its village water customers. Currently, the village charges Boulder Hill residents at a rate of $6.03 per thousand gallons of water used compared to the $4.90 charged to village residents.
Jeff Zoephel, the village's acting administrator, said Boulder Hill residents have paid more for their water service than village residents over the years because the subdivision's water system has proven more expensive to maintain.
"The amount of water main breaks out there is greater, so a portion of that additional money has gone to repair those mains each year and some of it has gone into our water main replacement program. For a while we were allocating $250,000 a year strictly for Boulder Hill water main replacement (work)," he said.
Zoephel said water revenues were not used to pay for the construction of either the village hall in 2008 or the village police station in 2005 as suggested by some residents.
"We issued debt (in the form of bonds) and used impact fees for both of those buildings," he said.
Zoephel noted that initially village officials did budget $1 million in water revenues to pay for the construction of village hall, but that money was never spent.
"We ended up not using any money from our water fund. We just issued more debt because we didn't feel we could take it from (the) water (fund) at that time," he said.
Zoephel confirmed the village transfers revenues out of its water fund each year into its general fund to pay overhead costs associated with the operation of the water system.
"All of our accounts payable, human resources, vehicle maintenance-all of those activities are paid for out of the general fund so we transfer a portion of the water revenues into the general fund to cover a portion of what we feel is related to water (service) expenses," he said.
Zoephel said the village also transfers revenues from the water fund to the water improvement fund to pay for capital improvement projects to the water system.
"So that money stays within our water (accounts), but one fund pays for operations and the other for capital (expenses)," he said.
Hill costs village more
Peter Wallers, president of Engineering Enterprises, Inc., the village engineering consultants, said he and his firm was not working for the village from the 1950s through the 1970s when Dise, Inc. was developing the subdivision and were not party to the water service agreement negotiated between the village and Dise, Inc.
Wallers, however, said it has cost the village significantly more money to maintain the Boulder Hill water system over the past five decades.
He attributed the increased cost in Boulder Hill to the frequent water main breaks.
"All things being equal, it cost us more money to deliver water to Boulder Hill because there are about 40 more main breaks a year in Boulder Hill than in the rest of our system," he said.
"So in Boulder Hill, we have a lot more labor costs and our people have to spend time there fixing broken mains and they are not able to do other things; plus you have material and overtime costs," Wallers said.
About 12 years ago, Wallers said his firm studied the village's and Boulder Hill water rates and concluded that the double water rates the village was charging its Boulder Hill water customers was no longer correct.
"The village (board), to their credit, said, 'We agree and over time we've improved the rates and now we have a system that we believe is pretty equitable given the main break history in Boulder Hill," he said, adding, "The fact of the matter is that over the last 10 or 11 years the village's rates have increased more than the rates in Boulder Hill."
As proposed by EEI and the village's public works department, the proposed water main replacement project would be completed in three phases over the next few years.
Wallers noted that approximately 250 households in Boulder Hill have reported poor water quality, primarily related to iron.
To remedy the problem, project plans call for replacing 18,000 feet of eight inch water main in areas were residents have complained about their water.
EEI has identified and targeted three areas for water main replacement: the neighborhood just north and east of the Oswegoland Civic Center, south of the Commonwealth Edison right-of-way, along Hubbard Road and on Creve Court.
In addition to replacing the old water mains, project plans call for the looping of dead-end water mains and the replacement of defective vales and fire hydrants throughout the subdivision.
Pubentz said there are many defective valves in the Boulder Hill system.
"We have a lot of valves in the system that don't shut down all the way," Pubentz said. "So now when we have a main break instead of shutting down service to 10 or 12 houses (to make the repair) we are shutting down service to 50 or 60 houses."
Wallers noted the board still must approve a funding plan for the project.
If approved by the board, he said construction would begin this summer on the portion of the project south of the ComEd right-of-way near the Civic Center.
The portion of the project on Creve Court and along Hubbard Road would also start this year with completion expected next year.
The timing on the valve and fire hydrant replacement portion of the project has yet to be determined. However, Wallers said it might become an ongoing project that would be completed over the course of years one and two.