Monday, September 26, 2005

Mayor is Missing the Point

I am sure the Mayor of Grayslake worked hard in responding to the blog positing on how the Village charges residents for sewer services they do not receive. However, the Mayor is missing the point.

Most Grayslake residents use more water during the Spring and Summer months to water their lawns, gardens and trees, wash their cars, etc. This water never enters the sanitary sewer system. However, the way Grayslake charges residents for sanitary sewer service at a rate of $3.91 per 1,000 gallons of water used results in residents paying hundreds of dollars each Spring and Summer for sanitary sewer service they never receive. Many other towns in Lake County have a summer rate which takes into account water that does not enter the sanitary sewer system. Grayslake does not.

It is unfair to charge people for something (sanitary sewer service) they do not receive. That is the point of the blog asking the Village to begin charging Spring and Summer adjusted rates like many other communities.

There is a County ordinance which allows the use of Spring and Summer rates. Why won't Grayslake simply use that ordinance for its own residents?

Write your Mayor and Village Board members asking them to put in the Spring and Summer rate program now!

Waterboy

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hainesville Provides Summer Discount, Cap Applied to LCPW Charges

We recently learned that there is another neighboring community that supports rate payers' rights not to overpay the Lake County Department of Public Works for summer sewage treatment. The Village of Hainesville caps summer sewer charges at 110% of winter usage. This is another example of Lake County villages invoking the Residential Summer Credit Program Ordinance to save their residents money. According to the Mayor of Hainesville, they have been providing a summer discount as long as he can remember; he thinks a dozen years or more. For information on Hainesville's rates please see their web site:

Saturday, September 17, 2005

An Open Letter to the Graylake Village Board

Dear Mayor Perry and distinguished Trustees,

As you know, residents of Grayslake are charged for water and sewer by the village based strictly on the volume of water delivered. The charges are $4.10/1000 gallons for water and $3.91/1000 gallons for sewer year-round. Like most communities in North America, residents of Grayslake use much more water during the summer months because they water their lawns and gardens. For the entire village, water usage in July was more than double that in February. However, by its very nature, very little of that extra water was returned to the sewer system. The result is that during summer months the village may bill sewer charges for more than double the water actually delivered to the sewers.

An industry-accepted method for accurately adjusting sewer charges for this summer water use is to apply sewer charges during the summer based on the water consumption of those same residents during the winter months. Countless water and sewer districts throughout North America use the method of “winter averaging” to issue bills that more fairly represent customer use of the sewer system. Likewise, some communities within Lake County that use this system to apply a “summer discount” include Waukegan, Libertyville, Highland Park, Hainesville and Gurnee.

What community shall we reference as an example of how Grayslake rate payers can be treated more fairly? Western Gurnee is a good choice because the rate structures are very similar, the communities are of comparable size and, most importantly, both charge their residents $2.70/1000 gallons for sewer treatment that they pass directly through to the Lake County Department of Public Works. For western Gurnee, this $2.70 represents almost their entire sewer charge, the village only adding $0.15/1000 gallons going to village costs. Grayslake adds $1.21/1000 gallons for its expenses. Nonetheless 69% of the sewer charges collected by Grayslake are passed through to the Lake County Department of Public Works.

Unlike Grayslake, however, Gurnee caps the amount they charge their customers for sewer in the summer to 110% of the customers’ usage in the winter months. This is the system that we advocate. Please see the Village of Gurnee web site at

http://www.gurnee.il.us/water/water_faq_bill.html

for more information. Grayslake should not impose these illogical, unfair and excessive summer sewer charges on its rate payers and the Lake County Department of Public Works should not require them to do so.

It has been stated that Lake County Public Works compels Grayslake to bill sewer charges based on actual water meter reads. However, this is not what the Village of Gurnee does. It was also suggested that for a village to give a discount for those with lawns and pools the costs would need to be offset by charging more to people living in condos or town homes. What the Village of Gurnee does is far simpler. They cap the amount they bill their customers at 110% of their winter usage. They then turn right around and cap the amount they pay Lake County Public Works at 110% of the customers’ winter usage.

What makes Gurnee think they are entitled to stiff Lake County Department of Public Works for these summer sewer overcharges? Apparently, Gurnee felt entitled to limit these overcharges by the “Residential Summer Credit Program Ordinance” passed by the Lake County Board in 1989. This ordinance provides for county water and sewer works to limit summer sewer charges to 110% of the non-summer usage. The ordinance was passed to limit precisely the same overcharges we’ve described. Its purpose is not one of arcane governmental finance but rather addresses an issue of fundamental fairness. A copy of this ordinance is posted on the Lake County Department of Public Works web site:

http://www.co.lake.il.us/pw/ordinances.asp

I am asking your support for Grayslake asserting its right not to overcharge its residents in the summer months and inform the Lake County Department of Public Works accordingly. The onus is on the Lake County Department of Public Works to prove (A) why the Residential Summer Credit Program Ordinance does not apply to Grayslake and (B) why Gurnee is entitled to cap its summer sewer charges but Grayslake is not. The wording of the statute does not distinguish that those residents receiving bills directly from LCPW are the only ones entitled to fairly computed summer sewer charges. Conversely, the statute does not say that those who receive LCPW charges passed through to their municipal bills are not entitled to fair treatment. It is simply not reasonable that the Lake County board intended to, on the one hand, address an issue of rate payer fairness for mostly unincorporated customers, while on the other hand provide for LCPW to effectively force municipalities to unfairly bill their customers.

The amounts involved are significant. According to LCPW, Grayslake billed over twice as much for sewer in July as it did in February, to the tune of over $150,000 for the month. This represents approximately $23 on each of the Village’s 6,500 sewer bills including those to condos, town homes and storefronts. Of those charges, over $100,000 left Grayslake. I think Grayslake should do all it can to keep this money within the community, either by providing additional services or by lowering residents’ bills. Either of these choices should be preferred over sending these overcharges to Lake County Public Works.

Once again, the purpose of our inquiries is in the interest of full open disclosure, debate and the improvement of the Grayslake community. We look forward to working with you in the future toward these goals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Response From Mayor Perry

First, I'd like to thank Mayor Perry for the time he took to respond to this blog. His complete and unedited response is attached below:

I will take the opportunity to respond in detail to the Mayor's information very soon. Until then, however, I feel I must address a cut-and-dried miscalculation in the attached spreadsheet. I have no doubt the mistakes were unintentional and extend an offer to the Mayor to revise his calculations. I took the liberty of checking exactly one of the other communities referenced in the rate comparison breakdown, Gurnee, which happened to have the highest "average bill" according to the spreadsheet, $63.79 for a 6,000 gallon bill.

Gurnee's situation is complex only inasmuch as there are two methods of calculating sewer charges, one for those living west of I-94 and those living east. Those living west pay a higher rate to the Lake County Department of Public Works (LCPW) for sewer ($2.70/1000 gallons) but pay no property tax toward sewer. Those living east of I-94 pay a lower rate on sewer ($1.16/1000 gallons) directly to the Northshore Sanitary District (NSSD) but have an additional property tax. I have spoken to Gurnee's Director of Finance who assured me that the preceding is correct and that both halves of the community pay roughly the same. Unfortunately, Mayor Perry's spreadsheet calculates water charges for Gurnee, adds in the charges for those living west of I-94 and then adds to that the charges for those living east of I-94. Basically, the $63.79 comes from charging water once and sewer twice. The correct calculation for the western half of Gurnee (the one whose rates are structured most closely to those of Grayslake's) is as follows:
  • $2.8 as 1/3 of the quarterly sewer charge
  • $20.7 for water. This is 6,000 gallons @ $3.45/1000 gallons
  • $0.90 for sewer directly to Gurnee. This is 6,000 gallons @ $0.15/1000 gallons
  • $16.20 for sewer passed directly to the LCPW. This is 6,000 gallons @ $2.70/1000 gallons, the same rate the LCPW charges the Village of Grayslake.
For a grand total of $40.60 if you lived in the western half of Gurnee. This is compared to the accurately computed Grayslake charge for 6,000 gallons of $48.06. For anyone interested in double-checking my math please see the easy-to-follow FAQ posted by the Village of Gurnee. While there, you may be interested to note that Gurnee applies a winter average to their summer bills. That means that while the average Grayslake sewer bill for July is over 100% higher than for February, sewer bills in Gurnee are only 10% higher than their winter average.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wauconda Residents Outraged by High Water Bills

I've been alerted to two articles over the last day about Wauconda residents upset about their water and sewer rate increase.
Water rates too high: Wauconda residents
Residents suffer water bill shock

Quite a surprise to rate payers as it represents an almost 86% increase for some residents. They are echoing many of the same arguments as are detailed by this blog, that it is unfair to bill the full sewer rate on water used for residential irrigation. I would like to make a couple points as to how it relates to Grayslake's rates:

  • Wauconda's rates are still lower than Grayslake's.
  • Wauconda imposed their rate increase to plug a budget hole. Fine. Unfair, but understandable. Grayslake sends 69% of the sewer overcharges to other governments. Not fine! If the Village of Grayslake needs the money, this is not an efficient method of taxation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Grayslake's Hidden Sewer Tax

IN GRAYSLAKE IT DOES NOT PAY
TO WATER YOUR LAWN, GARDEN, FLOWERS
OR WASH YOUR CAR
THERE IS EVEN A PENALTY FOR FILLING
YOUR KID’S SWIMMING POOL
Many Lake County communities recognize that much of the water you use in the Spring and Summer months does not go into the sanitary sewer system . As a result many Lake County communities charge discounted summer water/sewer rates. NOT GRAYSLAKE!
Grayslake charges $8.01 per 1,000 gallons of water used for water and sewer. (The average Grayslake home probably uses about 4,000 to 6,000 gallons per month for baths, washing clothes and dishes, cooking, etc.). Of the $8.01 per 1,000 gallons of water used monthly paid to the Village of Grayslake the Village says $4.10 (51%) is for water and $3.91 (49%)is for sanitary sewer. These are fairly high rates compared to other Lake County communities to start with.
However, while residents of Waukegan, Libertyville, Highland Park, Hinesville, and others pay reduced water & sewer rates for the Summer Grayslake residents do not get the reduction. Most of the other communities assume the extra water used in the Summer goes into gardens, lawns, kid’s pools, etc. Most use the winter average and then assume the amount of water going into the sanitary sewer system is the same for the Summer and that the extra is not going into the sanitary sewer system. GRAYSLAKE DOES NOT!
Because of the way Grayslake charges for water & sewer, just about every family in town is paying a minimum of $20.00 a month or more in the summer than our Lake County neighbors. That is $120.00 or more annually!


THE STORY GETS EVEN WORSE


The Village of Grayslake does not even treat its own sewerage. They send it to the North Shore Sanitary District (NSSD) for treatment. The NSSD charges the Village $1.16 per 1,000 gallons not the $3.91 the Village of Grayslake charges its residents. Grayslake even pays for water that is not sent to them. The Village of Grayslake simply pays the NSSD for all water used, even the water that goes into gardens, lawns, to save our trees, etc. If Grayslake used the Summer rate plan like Waukegan, Highland Park and others they would not have to pay the NSSD for water that goes into the ground and not into the sanitary sewer system.
The NSSD allows cities and villages to use summer discounts as long as the city or village passes the savings on to its residents.


WHERE DOES THE OTHER $2.70 OF YOUR MONEY GO?
It appears $1.54 per 1,000 gallons goes to the Lake County Public Works Department controlled by your Lake County Board and the remaining $1.21 goes to the Village of Grayslake.
It appears the Village of Grayslake’s unwillingness to use summer rates for the sewer portion of their $8.01 per 1,000 gallons bill like many communities is costing the Village of Grayslake’s residents as much as $250,000 or more annually for treating water that does not even go into the sanitary sewer system.
In a dry summer like this year the extra charge could be costing Grayslake residents as much as $400,000 annually.
Doesn’t it seem silly for Grayslake to be collecting all of this money from its residents and giving it as a gift to other governments?
COULD THE MAYOR AND VILLAGE BOARD GIVE A SUMMER DISCOUNT LIKE OTHER TOWNS?

YES!


The Mayor and Village Board simply have to amend their water/sewer rate ordinance to use the summer rate plan.
WHAT DOES THIS HIDDEN CHARGE COST YOU?
Step 1. Review your Grayslake water bills and add the number of gallons for the nine non-winter months. (March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November).
Step 2. . Review your Grayslake water bills and add the number of gallons for the three winter months ( December, January and February). Multiply this answer by 3.
Step 3. Subtract the answer in Step 2 from the answer in Step 1. Divide your answer by 1,000 gallons to determine your billing units. Round to the next highest number. (If the answer is 0 or less, stop. You are not paying the hidden summer tax.)
Step 4. Multiply the answer in Step 3 by $3.91. ($3.91 is the amount of the monthly $8.01 per 1,000 gallons water/sewer bill for sewer.)
That is your annual extra payment for water that does not enter the sanitary sewer system. Grayslake’s hidden tax.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Grayslake treated its residents like many other communities and let you save the amount from your answer in Step 4?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How I came to this blog

When I moved to Grayslake a couple years ago, I made the typical calls to set up my utility service for my new home. This is actually (some would say “strangely”) something that I enjoy doing. Its fun for me because it’s the rare occasion to have the “shoe on the other foot” and be the “typical” rate payer calling their utility with a service request. I usually am on the completely other side of the transaction at work. For more than 10 years I’ve designed, built and helped implement billing and customer care software for utilities. I’ve worked on the inside of some the largest utilities in the world down to small municipalities and cooperatives. I’ve helped them set up their rates and verified that they calculated correctly, designed bills, setup their meter reading systems, general ledgers and many other bits and pieces of the utilities’ daily lives that I never knew about until I started doing it.

When I called the Village of Grayslake I made my typical inquiries about how they liked their systems, what their policies were and asked about how charges were calculated. When I was told that the water and sewer was about $8/1000 gallons my first impulse was that I misunderstood what they said. Could they mean “per 1000 cu ft”? Did I hear them right? You see I’ve done some work for a very large water company in California that had self-admittedly higher rates than the American norm (being California and all). So, a flag went up in my head: “Do we really pay more for water and sewer than much of Southern California and the bay area?” Hmmm. That’s as far as I took it at that point. Making my living from utilities being able to pass their charges onto rate payers makes me disinclined to complain about my utility bills. I must confess that I’ve been part of some projects that have cost more than anticipated and the rate payers had to pick up the tab. In any case I generally feel less entitled to complain than your average customer.

Recently, though, some neighbors of mine mentioned that our sewer charges didn’t appear to give any kind of discount for the fact that much of the water used in the summer is for landscape irrigation or other summer uses and that we were being billed as if it went down the sewers. I responded that as follows:

  • It's typical for sewer bills to include some form of credit for water delivered through the meter that is not reasonably expected to find its way into the sewer for treatment. In places without “real” seasons, like the bay area, or for customers without appreciable landscaping, like urban high-rise condos, they can apply a flat percentage, often called a “consumptive use allowance”.
  • For places with “real” seasons, like the Midwest, it’s common, and to my mind more fair, to calculate sewer charges based on customers’ metered water use during the preceding winter. The theory is that you take the same number of showers (and whatnot) in the winter as the summer so this winter consumption is a good indication of the amount of water going down the sewer for the rest of the year.
  • My guess was that even if Grayslake doesn’t give an explicit credit on customers' bills for water not going into the sewers that it probably gets a credit “at the wholesale level” with the sanitary district. That is, the village probably aggregates its customers together, pays the sanitary district based on winter usage of the whole set of customers and then spends the difference (between what's billed to the customers and what's paid to the sanitary district) on other village business.

After some legwork, mostly by my fellow neighbors, it unfortunately appears that:

  • The rate payers (you and me) are not receiving credit for summer water use not going into the sewers.
  • The village is not reaping the full financial benefit of this apparent overcharge.

To get to the root of this issue, this blog is devoted to:

  • Getting what we understand to be the story on the Village of Grayslake water and sewer charges “out there” to the public.
  • Allow those who have more information to either fill in the details or set the story straight.
If you have more information or want to comment on this issue please leave a comment below or email the following:
MyWaterBill@gmail.com