About 3,200 St. Clair Township residents’ sewer rates are set to increase by an average of about $30.50 every two months, and “very few are happy with it,” said Township Supervisor Dave Barnes.
Under an agreement between the township and the village of Swansea that was approved last summer, the new sewer rates will take effect on March 1 for township residents whose sewage goes to the Swansea plant.
The contract states non-Swansea residents will pay the village 1.3 times the rate residents pay. The township mandates those residents also pay a new fee.
For a St. Clair Township resident whose current bill is $24.66, his or her bill will become $46.92. For an additional unit, or 750 gallons, of water used, the bill goes up to $50.14.
John “Skip” Kernan, resident and township highway commissioner, said he and a group of other residents have been working to spread the word about the increase.
“Come March 1, when all these people get these bills, all I can say is I’m glad I’m not the one answering the phones,” he said. “People are only going to become upset and outraged when they open that bill.”
Kernan and others who oppose the increase, including St. Clair County Board member Bob Trentman, who resigned from the St. Clair Township Board of Trustees in 2012, put together a petition asking the township and Swansea to reopen sewer agreement negotiations “to keep township residents’ sewer billing with St. Clair Township and not force them into astronomically higher rates with the village of Swansea for the next 25 years,” according to the text of the petition. It has more than 100 signatures.
They plan to present the petition and express their opinions about the rate increase at the Swansea Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday and at the next St. Clair Township Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, Feb. 24.
“I think they should do everything possible that they can if they disapprove of it,” Barnes said. “They need to be sitting in front of Swansea’s board at every meeting voicing their opinion.”
Here’s a breakdown of the new cost:
•Sewage usage fee:
$3.22 per one hundred cubic feet of water used
•Sewer debt fee:
$32.24 flat fee
$7.34 per month
The sewer debt fee is the rate that Swansea increased for non-residents. It is used to pay for the treatment of the water. Swansea residents will continue paying $24.80 for this fee. Township residents will pay $7.44 more to fund the operating costs of the Swansea sewer plant.
Any future increases to Swansea residents’ rates will cause township residents’ rates to go up by 1.3 times that amount, according to the contract.
Barnes said it is necessary for some township residents to use the Swansea plant rather than the township plant.
“There would have to be some major renovation to do that (accommodate all township residents) and I’m not sure that it could,” he said.
Attorneys for both the township and village agree that it is within Swansea’s legal rights to charge customers who live outside city limits more than city residents. Other municipalities do this, too.
Belleville, for example, charges customers outside city limits 1.5 times more than residents for waste water treatment.
Displeased residents are in talks with an attorney about the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the township or some other form of recourse, according to Kernan. The attorney’s name hasn’t been released by the residents.
Barnes said he has been researching possible legal routes, too, with little hope of making a change.
“Even if they change the law, it wouldn’t affect this agreement. It would affect future agreements,” he said.
Kernan said some residents do not feel they were adequately represented by their elected officials.
“I’m not blaming Swansea at all; they can’t help it if your board wasn’t savvy enough to negotiate with them,” Kernan said.
Negotiations on the township’s and village’s new 25-year contract had been underway for about six years.
It all started in 2008, when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency mandated a $22 million sewer plant expansion in Swansea because of population growth in the village and township.
Swansea and St. Clair Township were in talks to reach an agreement on a cost-sharing arrangement for the facility because township residents accounted for about 28 percent to 33 percent of the plant’s customers.
Barnes said in negotiations, officials fought against township residents having to pay for the plant.
“Since we didn’t have any input in the building of it, they said, ‘You’re going to pay this’ and we said, ‘No, we’re not,’” Barnes said.
Swansea Village Administrator Lisa Powers said, because IEPA mandated it, the village did not have any input either.
“When the federal and state government tell the municipality, ‘This is what you have to do,’ citizens can voice their concerns, but when they say you have to do it, you have to do it,” Powers said.
Another new rate in the contract is the transport fee. It is being mandated by St. Clair Township. It will be used by the township for maintenance and repair of the township sewer lines that connect to Swansea. It is being charged to township residents because their waste water is transported through those lines and the township needs funds to maintain them.
“Every year, we will do an evaluation of that fee,” Barnes said. “If it’s too much, we can lower it. There’s always that possibility. This is a starting point.”
That evaluation is required by the contract.
Barnes said it has been understood for some time that rates for non-Swansea residents would increase.
“If Swansea were going to take them over, then they were going to be charged at a higher rate,” he said.
That rate was being negotiated.
Patsy Tarvin, who said she is a Shiloh resident with a Belleville mailing address whose sewage happens to go to the Swansea plant, feels it is unfair that Swansea will take over billing of non-residents when those people have no voting rights for Swansea officials.
Former Township Supervisor Tim Buchanan brought up this issue at the Nov. 27, 2012, regular township meeting.
When asked by a resident if the sewer agreement was not settled, would Swansea begin billing the township customers, Buchanan said “the problem with turning it over to Swansea is that the township sewer users would have no elected representation on the board that sets sewer rates,” according to meeting minutes.
Tarvin recently retired on a fixed income and uses small amounts of water. She thinks if the increase had to happen, the rates should have been based on usage.
“I’m a bit angry,” she said. “I’m mad at myself for not being involved in any of this prior.”
Trentman said in a written statement: “I believe the new sewer rate increase in St Clair Township is extreme and unnecessary. Swansea and St. Clair Township officials should reconsider the new sewer agreement set to start March 1 as it will hurt township families much more than those who signed off on it realize.”
Until March 1, township residents will continue paying the minimum bimonthly fee of $24.66 for up to 4,000 gallons of use, plus an additional $5.07 for every 1,000 gallons used over that 4,000 gallons.
All new tap in fees for township users affected by the agreement will be paid to Swansea at 1.3 times the rate charged to village residents starting March 1, according to the contract.