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Great Lakes Article:

DuPage supports water rate cut
County Board hopes savings trickle down
By William Grady
Chicago Tribune
Published March 9th, 2005

Watering the lawn or doing a load of laundry could become a bit cheaper this year for most DuPage County residents if municipalities were to follow a recommendation adopted Tuesday by the County Board.

County Board members voted to add their support to a plan by the DuPage Water Commission to lower the wholesale rate that it charges to supply Lake Michigan water to more than two dozen towns in the county.

Under a tentative budget approved last month by the commission, the wholesale rate would drop by 20 cents--to $1.45 per 1,000 gallons from $1.65.

But the resolution, backed by County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and approved by the board, goes a step further and urges municipalities to pass on the lower rates to residential and business customers.

Schillerstrom has been critical of the Water Commission for several years, contending that its cash reserves are too high.

In 2003, he engineered a plan to transfer $75 million in commission reserves to county government over five years.

"You look at this unit of government, and they have too much money," Schillerstrom said after Tuesday's board meeting. "If they don't need it, then we ought to find a way to get it back to the people to whom it belongs, which is the taxpayer. And this is certainly one way of doing it--as a rate reduction."

It appears that some members of the Water Commission now agree that the agency's $119 million in cash reserves is too high. The proposed decrease in rates is part of a plan to reduce the reserves to $25 million.

At issue, though, is whether cities and villages pass on the savings to residents.

"I don't think it is inappropriate to set that as a goal," said Woodridge Mayor William Murphy, a commission member who has been critical of Schillerstrom at times. But, Murphy said, each municipality must make its own decision how best to use the rate savings.

Some towns have talked about reducing rates to residents by less than 20 cents per 1,000 gallons and using a portion of the savings to bolster municipal budgets that have taken a beating in recent years.

The county's resolution sends a message but is only advisory.

The Water Commission is expected to approve the lower rates next month when it adopts a $69.5 million operating budget for the next fiscal year.

Selling water at the proposed rate of $1.45 per 1,000 gallons would generate about $51 million over the next year, according to the preliminary budget. The agency also collects about $32.5 million a year in sales taxes imposed countywide.

Schillerstrom said the commission should look for a way to reimburse DuPage residents who pay the sales tax but live in communities that don't receive Lake Michigan water.

Also Tuesday, the County Board approved Schillerstrom's plan to shuffle committee assignments.

The plan eliminates one committee--Government Efficiency, which Schillerstrom said was no longer needed after a reorganization of county government in recent years--and sets up a new panel that will include three County Board members and three municipal members.

Schillerstrom said the new Intergovernmental Committee is intended to improve communications with municipal officials.

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