Metro-East News

St. Clair Township investigating option to take some sewer customers back

The St. Clair Township Board of Trustees discussed options regarding the Swansea-St. Clair Township Sewer Services Contract to improve the deal for township residents at its Tuesday night meeting.

Trustees will not send an invitation to Swansea to reopen negotiations — yet.

Instead, they are investigating a suggestion Township Supervisor Dave Barnes brought up at the March 24 meeting: that the township bring 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.

Swansea took over billing roughly 3,200 township residents whose waste water is treated by the Swansea sewer plant on March 1. They are charged 1.3 times the rate customers living in Swansea are charged for the service, and they see a $7.34 monthly “transport fee” on their bills. The fee was mandated in the agreement by the township. It is collected by Swansea and returned to the township for maintenance of sewer lines that transport waste water from the township to the Swansea plant.

These residents’ bills increased by an average of $30.50 every two months.

The board decided Tuesday that the township attorneys will look at the contract with Swansea to see if it requires a minimum number of customers to be under Swansea’s billing to make sure taking some customers back would not be a violation. At the same time, township engineers will investigate the capacity of the township sewer plant to make sure it could accommodate additional customers.

Attorney Doug Gruenke, of Bruckert, Gruenke & Long, P.C., explained to the trustees that the board may not need Swansea’s approval or an amendment to the contract to pursue this option.

He said it “would be ideal” to have some information for the board to review by the next meeting but it could take the engineers longer because they have to go out in the field.

Another suggestion brought up at the March 24 meeting that was discussed again Tuesday night was to use reserve sewer funds to credit all township customers because their rates were increased in August 2010 in part because the reserve “was being depleted,” Barnes said in the meeting, and in part because the board believed at the time it would need to pay Swansea for renovations to its sewer plant.

Swansea residents had also been facing higher rates to cover costs resulting from the Swansea plant expansion that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency mandated in 2008. That expansion was necessary because of population growth within the areas the plant serves, including the township.

Township residents did not contribute at that time because a cost-sharing agreement for the expansion could not be reached between the township and the village. Negotiations went on for about six years before the new 25-year contract was approved.

The language of the contract the municipalities agreed upon does not require payment from the township to Swansea.

The “Swansea reserve account” set up in 2011 to pay Swansea after negotiations finished has also been left unused and may be pulled from to credit customers as well, Barnes said.

The trustees have not yet agreed to credit customers. It is an option in the discussion phase.

Trustee Mary Carroll said before the board considers sending a letter of invitation to Swansea again, it needs to develop a plan. Trustee Greg Hipskind suggested holding a public hearing to discuss ideas with residents.

Hipskind also suggested, if a renegotiation process does take place with Swansea, that “we do it in a different manner with a little more oversight.”

“The reason I suggest oversight is because I don’t believe you can accurately do your job,” Hipskind said to Barnes during the meeting.

Hipskind argued the entire board should be involved in the negotiation process.

Barnes contended that “all the time in the world was given for questions to be asked and to be answered” about the negotiations and the contract. He also said a majority is needed to approve contracts, and four of the five trustees voted for approval.

“It is time for you to take responsibility for your actions,” he said.

Trustee Jaynie Wells read to the board from the dispute resolution of the contract, which states that disputes in the agreement have to be submitted to a process of mediation and resolved by alternative dispute resolution.

“Let’s follow the letter of the contract that you wrote,” Wells said. “But first, we need to implement it and in order to implement it, we need to do the things that it says in here we were going to do.”

The contract states that a resolution ordinance is needed to implement the contract.

“We got it and we stuck it somewhere, wherever the contracts go,” Wells said.

Earlier in the meeting, Wells mentioned the trouble she had in locating the contract with Swansea. Trustees discussed filing contracts in a centralized location in the future.

Contact reporter Lexi Cortes at acortes@bnd.com or 618-239-2514.

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