Metro-East News

St. Clair Township trustees put off vote on sewer negotiations with Swansea

St. Clair Township trustees on Tuesday night discussed inviting Swansea village officials to reopen negotiations on a sewer agreement that has roughly 3,200 township residents upset over an increase in sewer service rates but ultimately took no vote on the matter.

Under the agreement, township residents served by Swansea’s sewer plant are now billed directly by the village instead of receiving a bill from the township. Those residents are now charged at 1.3 times the rate customers living in Swansea village limits are charged for service.

In addition, they’re charged $7.34 on top of their new rates as a monthly transport fee. Funds generated by that fee are transferred to the township, which is responsible for maintaining the sewer lines that transport waste water from the township to the Swansea plant.

Residents upset over the arrangement contend that they were never consulted before an agreement was reached and now don’t have a say in how their sewer service is managed because they can’t vote in Swansea village elections.

Township Supervisor Dave Barnes suggested lessening the impact of the increased rates by bringing some infrastructure back online that was put out of service in the 1990s. He said “between 1,500 and 1,800 customers” affected by the agreement could be served by the township’s sewer plant instead of Swansea’s if the equipment is reactivated and necessary improvements are made.

Barnes didn’t have an estimate for how much it would cost to make the improvements.

Barnes also suggested using reserve funds to credit the customers whose rates have increased.

Trustee Mary Carroll suggested using an independent arbitrator to help reach a “fair and non-biased” agreement between the township and Swansea. She also suggested appealing to state lawmakers to pass legislation “so that one municipality can’t gouge another one.”

But the suggested changes to the agreement are moot unless Swansea agrees to reopen the negotiations.

Trustee Jaynie Wells worried the township hasn’t held up enough of its end of the contract to convince Swansea to renegotiate.

“It (the contract) says beginning March 1, 2015, and every March 1 thereafter, St. Clair shall provide Swansea with an annual written report. Have we done that? It was due March 1,” Wells asked.

“We have not,” Barnes answered.

“This is part of the contract. Now, if we want to go back to them and say here’s some suggestions we have, we should have our ducks in a row before we do that,” Wells said.