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posted: 4/28/2010 12:01 AM

Residents accuse DuPage of shenanigans with water map

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Residents opposing a DuPage County proposal to connect their properties with Lake Michigan water claim officials gerrymandered a survey map to get the results needed to proceed with the plan.

"Gerrymandering is exactly what was done," said Fred Hildreth, a 33-year resident of the Villa Roosevelt neighborhood, in an unincorporated area near Lombard and Oakbrook Terrace. "It wasn't done the right way."

Hildreth and other opponents said the issue should have died when only 48 percent of the 622 property owners surveyed in the area favored the water connection plan. They complain that instead, county officials removed 212 properties along the eastern edge of the survey area from the results. The new data had 62 percent of the property owners favoring the water hookup.

County officials deny any wrongdoing and said they are simply trying to supply Lake Michigan water to residents who want it.

"When you have a big area, you may have some individuals who don't want it," said board member Brien Sheahan. "We're trying to get water to people who want it, we're not trying to force water on people who don't want it. It's clearly a minority complaining about it."

Nick Kottmeyer, the county's superintendent of public works, said the reason the 212 contiguous properties were taken out of the survey results was because a clear majority - 133 owners - opposed the plan. Only 46 property owners favored the proposal, while 33 others did not respond to the survey. Kottmeyer also said the removal of those properties did not increase the cost of the project to the remaining property owners, so it made no difference if the 212 were included in the survey results. He added that 15 of the property owners excluded have since asked to be let back into the hookup area.

The county board concluded a public hearing on the proposal at its Tuesday meeting. Written objections or support letters are due within the next 60 days and then the board is expected to vote on the proposal to create a special taxing district to pay for the connection. Generally, the area is bounded to the north by Roosevelt Road, to the east by Addison Avenue, to the south by 22nd Street and to the west by Fairfield Avenue.

Kottmeyer estimated the project would cost about $13.5 million at most to fund. That includes construction costs and debt payments over a 20-year period. Property owners would be charged a maximum rate of $1.30 per $100 of equalized assessed value over the lifetime of the debt. That means the owner of a $300,000 house would pay about $1,220 more a year in property taxes, or nearly $25,000 at the end of the 20 years.

Some residents said they can't afford the increase in property taxes.

"I do not want Lake Michigan water because the price is too high," said resident Nancy Masterson. "I'd like to stay here for the rest of my years, but I don't know if I can. We want to stay in this affordable, comfortable way of life."

Kottmeyer said because the county is limited to a specific total amount it can collect from the homeowners each of the 20 years, the special tax rate will never go up.

"Also, as more empty lots develop in that area, people's rates will go down," he said. "A lot of these empty lots are too small to develop without water and sewer service, so you see them become developable now."