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Montgomery, Oswego in the middle on utility bills : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Montgomery, Oswego in the middle on utility bills
How much Kendall County residents pay compared in Ledger-Sentinel survey

by Matt Schury


Water, sewer and garbage service is ubiquitous with modern living but the way the services are billed is not consistent in Kendall County.

Depending on where you live in a city, village or even unincorporated areas the rate and schedule for billing can vary.

Municipalities and sanitary districts that provide and maintain sewer and water services charge fees for their services based on usage as well as anticipated costs for the future to maintain and develop their facilities.

Garbage collection fees also differ. If you live in a municipality your refuse service may be contracted through the city or village with a private refuse service. However, if you live in an unincorporated area of the county, you probably have to set up your own garbage service.

For this story utility bills were calculated for an average household billed for 12,000 gallons of water and sewer usage on a bi-monthly bill for the five largest municipalities and sanitary districts in Kendall County.

Yorkville residents living in the Yorkville-Bristol Sanitary District paid the most in fees ($204) followed by Plano's city sewer and water users ($171), Oswego residents in the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District ranked third ($170), Montgomery on Fox Metro were fourth ($159) and Newark residents who use the village sanitary and sewer services were fifth ($82).

Newark residents, unlike the other city or village residents, have to contract their own refuse service. The village also bills quarterly so those bills were converted to a bi-monthly rate to be consistent with other municipalities.

Residents of the Grande Reserve subdivision in Yorkville have Fox Metro sanitary sewer service and paid $179 on a sample bill. Additionally, Boulder Hill residents in unincorporated Kendall County paid $131 on the sample utility bi-monthly bill. However, Boulder Hill residents must negotiate their own garbage service. Adding in the average garbage rate of $36.13 paid by other municipalities brought a Boulder Hill resident's bill to $168.

Officials say lack of planning and a sudden halt to growth caught some of the areas' municipalities and sanitary districts slightly off guard and is leading to higher sewer and water bills for residents.

Municipalities that used bonds and loans to pay for projects counted on new growth to pay for those projects. When the recession hit in 2008, some cities and sanitary districts found their debt for expanding services outpaced what they were collecting. Consequently, many residents in Kendall County found flat fees and higher usage rates each year.

For instance, Yorkville residents in the Yorkville Bristol Sanitary District are charged a minimum of $174.44 per bill no matter how little water they use. Bart Olson, Yorkville's administrator, says the city council voted to implement that minimum bill.

"Municipalities put in minimums for many reasons-they have fixed costs as far as debt service schedules go, if they've built infrastructure or they knew that their personnel costs were going to be a certain dollar amount or their operational costs," Olson said.

Yorkville has price breaks for those residents that leave for the winter and homes that are no longer occupied.

Breaking down the bill of a Yorkville resident who is on YBSD shows the city's water rate is $13.11 per 350 cubic feet (2,618 gallons) of water used. Meanwhile the YBSD portion of the bill breaks down to $76.11 per 51,754 gallons of water used during a bi-monthly period. Yorkville residents also have four flat fees added onto their water bills-a sewer maintenance fee of $18, a sewer infrastructure fee of $8, a water infrastructure fee of $8 and a road infrastructure fee of $16. The refuse fee included in Yorkville is $35.22.

Those infrastructure fees are fairly recent additions to the bills. The city implemented the water infrastructure fee a few years ago and the sewer, water and road infrastructure fees were put in place this year.

"The short story is that we built a bunch of infrastructure in the mid-2000s to accommodate growth and developers or different parties made commitments to either front-fund portions of it or pay it off over time," Olson said. "We just trusted them that they were going to build, and then when the economy tanked obviously building permits dried up, so our revenues basically to pay off those bonds to build the infrastructure dried up. We had to substitute it with a new fee as a way to pay off those bonds."

He says the a minimum charge is on the water bill because you've got a fixed cost for your water depending on personnel and operations costs and debt service costs.

"If you fall short because you're not charging a minimum or everybody conserves too much water, then you're looking at running a deficit in your budget," he said. "It's nothing other than math. You've got certain costs that have to be paid and if you fall short one year, you're going to have to make it up next year."

Yorkville's recently added road infrastructure fee is something that most other municipalities in Kendall County don't have.

"We basically told everyone we don't have money to build roads unless we implement this fee and when we implemented the fee all the money that comes from the fee goes toward our Road to Better Roads program," Olson said.

The sewer maintenance fee has been in place for about 20 years because the city doesn't charge a rate for all the sewers in town.

The water infrastructure fee has been renewed each year and Olson says the city will discuss renewing the other two infrastructure fees again next year

"We put a sunset on them each year so that we are forced to either take action or let them expire," Olson said.

If growth returns new residents will pay sewer and water connections fees, and the city can pay its debts with those funds instead of using the infrastructure fee.

"From a planning perspective, we said we cannot plan on growth reoccurring to offset these fees," he said. "The first year it does happen I'm sure the city council is going to be happy to remove the fees."

Olson said the city did an analysis and found that the water and sewer costs aren't that much higher compared to other municipalities. But when you add the sanitary district fee to the bill it makes it more expensive

"It's something that we have been particularly sensitive to at city council over the past few years ... the price of the utility bill," he said.

The city has an agreement with YBSD to include the district's charge on the bill.

Residents moving from towns and cities east of Kendall County sometimes are paying a utility bill that doesn't includes water, sewer and garbage, Olson points out.

"People don't necessarily realize that out here we actually save everybody a little bit of money each year doing that on one bill," Olson said.

Kevin Collman, executive director for YBSD, explains that the amount they charge, $76.11 per 51,754 gallons of water used, essentially a flat rate for residential users.

"That was to satisfy the payback for the debt for plant expansion which was going to take place in the next couple of years," he said. "We were pretty much mandated by IEPA to set a fee and that's what we set it at at that time to cover the cost of construction."

Collman adds that YBSD is in charge of maintaining 14.3 miles of sewer pipes with about 6,400 users, something that is not inexpensive.

"Water and disposing of that water is going to become more expensive as time goes on, it's just such a precious commodity that people just don't realize," Collman said.

Sanitary districts
face EPA mandates

Sanitary districts also need to keep pace with tighter restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tom Muth, manager for Fox Metro, says the district's rate is slated to increase five percent over the next nine years to meet the EPA mandates.

"The vast majority for the reason for the increase is we need the revenues to meet the expenditures of the future mandates that are being imposed on us by the US EPA and IEPA," Muth said.

Jim Detzler, president of the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District, says they calculated the fee based on what the EPA requires them to build and the money it takes to maintain what they have.

"They're requiring us to build another plant basically the size of the one we have which is going to cost $200 million," he said. "We have to have enough money to do that."

Muth adds that a couple of years ago the district stopped levying a tax so there is no other way for revenues to come in without charging a user fee. Additionally, meeting tighter EPA phosphorus limits coming soon requires them to build a south plant.

"All it means is that we have to have more revenue to build the infrastructure at the plant to be able to clean waste water to a higher level and that means to remove for phosphorus and potential nitrogen down the road, he said. "Our rate study determined that 'X' amount of years down the road we would have very little to zero cash flow."

The Fox River is on a listing of endangered rivers and Muth explained that Fox Metro has to treat the wastewater to a higher standard.

"We're looking at my children, your children and the children after that wanting this river to be in a clean enough state where you can draw the water, clean it up and drink it like," Muth said. "If you further pollute it, it's going to be more difficult to make drinking water out of it."

However, Collman and Muth both also point out that the cost of sewer service is still relatively inexpensive when compared to other monthly bills.

"Look what your cell phone costs you per month," Collman said. "Our (sewer rate) is $38 a month and I don't know if you can hardly even get a get a telephone hardwire for that much anymore."

Muth also adds that the utility bill is relative.

"Let's face it, it's one of the cheaper bills in the bill box," he said. "What does everybody pay just for cell phone service?"

Dee Anderson, Plano utility billing clerk, also says comparing bills is tough to do since each household is using the services under different conditions.

"You get people all the time that are going to call and they are going to say it's too much and you try to just explain to them about the use because they want to compare their bill to their neighbors or whatever," she said.

She said they can't really do that because it depends on usage and the number of people.

"How many loads of laundry do you do a week? How many showers?" she asked. "My rule of thumb is that I always just figure ... most of the people based on what we use is about 50 gallons a day per person for laundry, showers, doing dishes, washing cars, pretty much everything."

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