Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday signed into law a bill that allows public officials and sewer and water service rate-payers to call for an independent study of sewer tap-on fees.
The bill, House Bill 372, was the latest attempt by a local developer and metro-east lawmakers to lower the fees Caseyville Township charges to connect new homes and other buildings to its sewer system. Critics have said Caseyville Township’s tap-on fees are abusively high.
Under the provision newly approved by Rauner, townships that manage their own sewer or water systems must conduct an independent tap-on cost study when:
▪ The township plans to change its tap-on fees
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▪ The township surpervisor or a majority of the township’s trustees call for a study
▪ A majority of the mayors whose towns fall within the township’s facility planning area call for a study
▪ A petition signed by 10 percent or more of the township’s sewer or water service customers who have paid tap-on fees in the last five years call for a study
The bill is effective immediately.
One earlier bill, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, proposed capping sewer tap-on charges to 1/6 of the yearly service charge for a home or building. Another, sponsored by Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, called for resetting rates based on the size of the water meter new construction would use. Those proposed rates were generated using previous rate studies compiled by engineers and local officials examining the municipal sewer and water tap-on fees in suburban St. Louis.
Caseyville Township officials drafted a letter to sewer service rate-payers this spring that warned their monthly bills could increase by as much as three times if efforts to lower the township’s tap-on rates were successful.
Currently, new homes in Caseyville Township are charged a flat $2,000 fee to connect to sewer service. Other buildings are charged $2,000 per plumbing fixture.
Local developer Darwin Miles previously noted as an example of the rates he said were abusively high in the Heartland Women’s Healthcare location on Fortune Boulevard in Shiloh. The 8,700-square-foot building he helped develop is identical to similar locations in Mount Vernon and Marion. While the doctor who built the locations in Mount Vernon and Marion paid $300 and $700 respectively in tap-on fees there, he was charged $62,000 in Caseyville Township, according to a township invoice.
Similarly, a 128-room hotel would face tap-on fees of $3,000 and $13,000 in Collinsville and Mount Vernon, respectively, compared with more than a quarter of a million dollars in Caseyville Township.
Township officials told the News-Democrat last spring that the sewer tap-on rates for new homes and buildings were used to help repay a $22 million Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loan it took out to modernize the sewer plant. But according to IEPA documents, the agency doesn’t consider tap-on fees a “dedicated source of revenue” sufficient to service the debt, and required the township to show its regular sewer rates — not unpredictable tap-on charges — would be enough to repay the loan.
Township Supervisor Bruce Canty was not immediately available for comment Monday.
Both Kay’s and McCarter’s bills failed to advance despite earning overwhelming early support in both the House and Senate.
“The previous bill was a direct bill. It nailed the problem, it set the new rates,” Miles said. He said even though the bill Rauner approved isn’t as direct as the previous proposals, it’s better than nothing changing at all.
“I have no doubt that serious problem and injustice will be rectified in the end,” Miles said. He praised Kay, McCarter, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, and Sen. James Clayborne Jr., D-Belleville, for coming to a bipartisan solution that creates a “framework and mechanism for governmental accountability through independent studies.”
“The way that we argued this from the beginning was probably the best way to do it,” McCarter said, referring to the earlier proposals that failed to advance in Springfield. “But this was a compromise. And it at least will provide some transparency to the situation in Caseyville Township.”
Likely the quickest path to a cost study is agreement among the mayors in the township’s service area to call for one, something Miles has confidence will happen soon. “I feel very confident that all three mayors in the geographical area that is defined in the bill will sign on to request an immediate study of the sewer tap-on fee,” he said.
All or parts of Fairview Heights, O’Fallon and Shiloh fall within the facility planning area served by Caseyville Township’s sewer system. None of the respective mayors could immediately be reached for comment on whether they intended to call for a rate study Monday afternoon.
Still, McCarter said it wouldn’t be long before someone got the ball rolling.
“No one’s going to wait on this one because the abuse is obvious,” he said. “It’s always good when the people can initiate something. I think this lets the people demand transparency and accountability.”