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updated: 3/4/2012 6:30 AM

Schaumburg won't hold electricity referendum

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Schaumburg is among the smaller number of suburbs not jumping on the bandwagon of putting an electricity aggregation referendum on the March 20 primary ballot.

Not only does Schaumburg have a standing policy against village board-initiated referendums, but officials particularly questioned the long-term benefits of this one, Village Manager Ken Fritz said.

The referendum will ask voters of municipalities that adopted it whether their local leaders should be authorized to negotiate with electricity suppliers other than ComEd.

The potential of finding lower rates is implied as some alternative providers currently offer significantly lower rates than ComEd, but Fritz said there's a question of how long that would last once cities and villages get locked into their new providers.

While Fritz said the expense of putting a referendum on a ballot isn't great, it was generally felt that the trouble and expense wouldn't be worth it.

"There's a question of how long that benefit will be available," Fritz said. "It's a potential short-term benefit."

And Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson points out that individual citizens don't need the village's help to bypass ComEd if they want to.

"People can do it on their own," Larson said. "There's a process out there by which people can contact these companies and try to lower their rates ... for a time anyway."

The Citizens Utility Board website offers details on rates offered by various alternative providers.

Larson said the board's policy against initiating referendums of its own dates back to an era when municipalities were being urged by different groups to run ones on particular political issues like abortion, the creation of nuclear-free zones and war issues.

There's no prohibition against citizen-initiated referendums, but the village won't do them itself, Larson said. To agree to one type of issue demands that all others be fairly represented as well, he added.

Schaumburg is hardly alone in its minority position on the electricity referendum. Other Northwest suburbs that didn't adopt the referendum include communities as varied as Elk Grove Village, Inverness and Lake Barrington.

Most of these, like Schaumburg, didn't recognize a clear-cut benefit in the referendum. In Lake Barrington's case, the gated senior community of Lake Barrington Shores where a significant portion of the entire village's population lives has an existing cost-saving deal with ComEd that could not be improved by opting out of it.

But Schaumburg's 56-year history of never running a village-initiated referendum was an equally strong reason why this one wasn't pursued, Fritz said.

Until December 2009, the village never had a property tax. And Schaumburg has been fortunate that it's never had to ask voters for any rate increases to build its village facilities -- the reason behind most referendums in municipalities that rely largely upon their property taxes, Fritz said.

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