“It needs to be done,” was the phrase uttered over and over by village trustees and Mayor Paul Braun alike during the Aug. 6 Village Board meeting. All village officials formerly agreed during a March meeting that Flossmoor’s water system is in dire need of repair, but how to finance it is what’s in question.
According to Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel, a 2004 village water study conducted by a private engineering firm in conjunction with public works data resulted in a plan to replace the worst water main in the system via a three-phase program over the course of eight years. The plan intends to repair 10.8 percent of the entire system, 18 percent of the most problematic water main. This project comes with a $7.3 million price tag, and further work is needed beyond this, Wachtel says, as there have been no major water system improvements made in the past two decades. At the current rate, the village is only billing 62.5 percent of the water they purchase, which means about one of every three gallons of water is lost. 90 percent is the ideal billed to purchase rate, according to a memo from Wachtel. The inefficiencies have resulted in a loss of roughly $320,000 over the past year. Additionally, the 25 or so average number of breaks per year is costing the village nearly $100,000 annually.
Will spending roughly $7 million on fixing just over ten percent of the system make an impact, though?
“We’re hopeful, if we’re targeting our most problematic (water) main, that we will get the most bang for our buck,” Wachtel said.
A general obligation (G.O.) bond is the best option to fund the project, according to Wachtel, considering there is not enough cash in the Water Sewer fund. Securing a G.O. bond is no easy task, though. Much like the recent electrical aggregation decision, the village will have to go to referendum to get a G.O. bond. This means residents will have to vote in favor of absorbing some of the impact. Wachtel’s memo estimates taxpayers having to pay an increase of $107.47 for a $200,000 home, $167.25 for a $300,000 home and $286.80 for a $500,000 home, should the referendum pass. Since this is dealing with property tax money, the increase will be tax deductable.
Anticipating pushback from residents during a difficult economy, Wachtel reminded the board of recent governmental efforts to ease financial stress on residents. This includes refinancing library construction bonds to save a total of $265,169 directly on tax bills as well as the recent electrical aggregation purchases which is saving residents an estimated 48 percent in supply costs.
Still, Mayor Paul Braun acknowledged the hardships many residents are facing. He says a comprehensive and intense educational initiative is in store should the village attempt to meet the Aug. 20 deadline for submitting referenda questions.
“This is a very difficult economic climate and our intention is not to burden (residents) any more,” Braun said. “This is going to take a monumental effort on our part to educate residents why we think this is necessary. (Water) is our core service.”
Trustee James Wilder is optimistic that the board is handling the situation as delicately as possible, all things considered.
“I think this is more transparent,” Wilder said. “It gives residents a chance to make a decision.”
The board will likely be voting on whether to go to referendum during the next village board meeting.