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posted: 7/12/2012 9:25 AM

Editorial: Water district should be dissolved

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Even in Illinois, often cited as having the most governmental layers in the nation, places like the Otter Creek Water Reclamation District stand out.

The water and sewer agency serving a portion of South Elgin has no employees, no offices, no website and provides no direct services, as Daily Herald Staff Writer Jake Griffin reported Wednesday.

It takes in fees and tax dollars and contracts with South Elgin to operate and maintain its water system.

Most management duties are left in the hands of Otter Creek's lawyer, who was paid $1.3 million for the work between 2000 and 2010. Three appointed board members, each paid $6,000 a year, are in charge.

Now, South Elgin officials say the time is right to do away with the district, with low interest rates making it feasible for the village to take over Otter Creek, refinance its debt from a 1999 water-system building project, and still save money by eliminating duplicated costs.

We firmly agree.

We've advocated before for a close look at the justification for government entities such as townships, with experts citing problems from voter apathy to lack of accountability to increased costs that can result from so many different government layers.

For townships, the debate centers more on how duties like road maintenance and recreational programming can be performed most efficiently, rather than on the value of those duties, and advocates make reasonable points on both sides. The case for eliminating the Otter Creek Water Reclamation District is much clearer.

Serving almost entirely as a conduit for money collected from Thornwood neighborhood property owners and sent to the village of South Elgin, the agency seems a solid example of an obstacle to government efficiency.

As evidence, consider a lawsuit by the water district against South Elgin, which put residents in the silly position of essentially suing themselves, since they live in and pay taxes to both the village and the water district, as Griffin pointed out.

The Otter Creek Water Reclamation District initially served a purpose -- building a water system in an area primed for development -- and board members should be lauded for not letting it grow into a large bureaucracy that would be harder to dismantle. They no doubt feel strong allegiance to an agency they worked hard to create and maintain.

Yet, its usefulness has ended, and we urge board members to drop their opposition to the change.

It's time for the water agency to be dissolved and for its water and sewage treatment duties to be placed squarely in the hands of the village, which, after all, already is handling those responsibilities.

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