Metro-East News

Swansea to St. Clair Township: ‘No point in negotiating’ sewer contract

St. Clair Township Supervisor David Barnes during the St. Clair Township Board of Trustees meeting on June 16.
St. Clair Township Supervisor David Barnes during the St. Clair Township Board of Trustees meeting on June 16. Belleville News-Democrat file photo

After seven months of discussion about St. Clair Township’s options regarding the controversial sewer contract with Swansea, the township board of trustees sent proposed revisions to the village last month.

Swansea declined those revisions 10 days after receiving them.

“Unfortunately, the village’s position is so far from the township’s that the village sees no point in negotiating,” the response from Swansea states.

Under the Swansea-St. Clair Township Sewer Services Agreement signed in 2014, about 3,200 township residents whose wastewater is treated by Swansea’s sewer plant are charged 1.3 times the rate that village residents pay. In addition, residents face a $7.34 monthly “transport fee” charged by the township to maintain the sewer lines that transport the wastewater to Swansea’s plant.

The village took over billing of these customers beginning March 1 and sent out the first bills in May. The municipalities negotiated for about six years before signing the agreement.

The revisions the township proposed include:

▪  Swansea would charge township sewer customers 1.175 times the rate that village residents pay.

▪  The township would not assess a transport fee.

▪  The township would resume billing the township sewer customers.

▪  The length of the contract would be 15 years instead of 25.

▪  All new township tap-in fees would be retained by the township instead of being sent to Swansea.

Township Trustee Mary Carroll said during the board’s meeting Tuesday night she is “disappointed” in Swansea’s response. Township Supervisor Dave Barnes said the township would like to know where the village wants to go from here.

“I think we negotiated with ourselves for six years,” Barnes said. “There’s no reason to negotiate with ourselves again if they’re not willing to tell us what they want.

“The ball’s in their court.”

When asked if the township would send another proposal to Swansea, Barnes said the board could discuss it.

“We’ll just see what direction it goes,” he said.

Public outcry and a lawsuit filed by three St. Clair Township residents against Swansea, which a St. Clair County judge decided last week will proceed, followed the contract’s approval.

Township residents’ wastewater had been treated by the Swansea sewer plant for many years. Flow studies conducted by both St. Clair Township and Swansea during contract negotiations showed that township residents made up about one-third of the usage of Swansea’s plant.

However, the township billed residents before the new contract took effect, and their previous rate was $24.66 for 4,000 gallons of water used, plus $5.07 for each additional 1,000 gallons used.

The new cost to township residents billed by Swansea is a $32.24 flat fee, plus $3.22 per 100 cubic feet of water used. The flat fee, called the sewer debt fee, is the rate that Swansea increased for township residents. It is used to pay for the treatment of the water. Swansea residents are charged $24.80.

On average, township residents’ bills have gone up about $15 per month.

During contract negotiations, attorneys for both Swansea and St. Clair Township agreed that it was within the village’s legal rights to charge customers who live outside city limits more than city residents.

Swansea Mayor Ken Mueller has said previously the Village Board proposed the contract based on calculations from engineers and advice from lawyers, who told the board charging a higher rate to non-residents was legal. Mueller said, from what the board was advised, it was understood that non-residents could be charged as much as 1.5 times what residents pay, which is how much Belleville charges its sewer customers who live outside city limits.

St. Clair Township trustees have at board meetings since March discussed options regarding the contract that might improve the deal for township residents.

Most recently, the township board voted to hire an attorney to determine its legal options, with the ultimate goal of reopening negotiations with the village.

Trustees have also discussed bringing back township sewer customers who are billed and serviced by Swansea to be billed and serviced by the township, which stalled when the board put off a vote on a necessary engineering study to determine whether it would be possible.

However, the attorney, Terry Bruckert of O’Fallon, said he would examine the legality of taking customers back “as an option” before the board voted on whether to pay for the study.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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