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Water, sewer rate hike goes to Geneva council

GENEVA – Water and sewer rates in Geneva could rise if the city council approves an increase Feb. 28 – despite a 7-to-3 thumbs down recommendation from the committee of the whole.

Aldermen on Monday rejected a staff proposal to raise rates 5 percent for water and 4.5 percent for sewer and nearly $300,000 from property taxes. Final action is scheduled for the council meeting 7 p.m. Feb. 28.

“My constituents do not want any increase,” 4th Ward Alderman Dorothy Flanagan said.

First Ward Alderman Charles Brown said officials should not raise rates but wait and see what happens next year.

“We are hearing from our constituents,” Brown said. “This is not the year to be raising anything that we don’t have to.”

The rate would have increased the average residential rate payer’s bill from $50.15 to $53.22, Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Robert Van Gyseghem said.

The increases were proposed because water consumption rates for Fiscal Year 2010 were 10 percent below projections, leading to a decrease in water sale and revenue, officials said.

The increase is necessary, Van Gyseghem and Public Works Director Daniel Dinges said, to shore up the reserves to $1.5 million as required by city policy.

This is the second year of a three-year rate increase plan. Last year, city officials raised water and sewer rates 4.24 percent, costing nearly $21 more over the course of the year for the average residential user.

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra, 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Piper and 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg voted against no-increase, saying it was necessary to maintain the water department’s financial reserves and meet capital expenses.

“We all agreed that last year when we did not want to take the big jump [for an increase] we all agreed would take a little last year, a little this year and a little next year,” Vogelsberg said. “I think we have to honor that.”

Piper said for other aldermen to say constituents would rather have cash in their pocket than a small increase is short-sighted.

“I think we agreed to it [last year] and at the end of the day, we’re talking about three bucks a head,” Piper said. “I don’t think it is worth it to put this town up for a risk. I keep hearing times are tough out there – and man, they’re tough for everybody – but three bucks a head for this risk? I don’t get it.”

Dinges cautioned that not having a rate increase would mean the reserves would go down to $785,000 at the end of the year.

The increase also would have paid for various capital projects.

These included replacement of ultraviolet lamps to disinfect the final effluent released from the plant to the Fox River at a cost of $18,500; a water main extension on North First Street at the St. Charles border for $200,000; a Kautz Road, Route 38 and Union Pacific Railroad overpass project for $250,000, in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation, among others.

Aldermen differed over what capital expenditures were necessary.

Fifth Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino questioned how much the capital budget had increased, from $851,000 to $1.2 million.

“I think it is very hard to swallow, as a consumer, as a business person – that I am myself – to go from an $800,000 expense in one year to $1.2 million the next year,” Dantino said. “I think that’s very hard. In my way of looking at it, we have to live on $850,000 ... I haven’t seen that kind of 50 percent jump. I’m in favor of no [rate] increase for this year.”

But Van Gyseghem countered that the capital budget differs each year.

“OK, this year we need $1.2 million for capital expenditures,” Van Gyseghem said. “I’m showing you exactly what it is. For the following year, for 2012-13, I propose $900,000. Quite a difference. So it’s not continuing to get bigger. In my mind, it’s very justified.”

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