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updated: 10/22/2012 6:14 PM

Elgin water study could end in new fee for 2014

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The City of Elgin will know by next fall how much it costs to get water to its residents and have a better idea of how best to implement a new fee based on stormwater management, should council members decide to do so.

The city council approved a contract with engineering firm Strand and Associates to study the city's water and sewer rates and implement a stormwater fee at a special meeting Friday. Water Director Kyla Jacobsen said the study will help the city shift to a billing model focused on conservation. The current model is consumption-based where higher water use has been greeted happily by a city willing to charge for as much as residents and businesses use.

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"It was all based on 'use it as much as you want, anytime you want and it's there ready for your use,'" Jacobsen said.

Options for a future conservation model include charging more for water use between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the summer, Jacobsen said. When people choose to water their lawns between those hours, much of it is wasted because it evaporates.

The conservation model could also be good for the city's bottom line. Jacobsen said the current infrastructure will serve residents for longer if everyone uses less as the city grows.

The water rate study -- Elgin's first in two decades -- will make clear the costs of operating and it will project the city's needs for infrastructure replacement over the next fiscal year and five-year plan.

Councilman John Prigge was the only council member to vote against the study, largely because it was packaged with a feasibility analysis of adding a fee based on how much individual property owners contribute to stormwater runoff.

Prigge opposes adding a new fee to the water bill to pay for stormwater maintenance projects, especially because it would charge people based on the amount of impervious surface they have on their properties -- meaning those with larger paved areas would pay more.

The city's efforts in stormwater management are already happening -- the most expensive example being the sewer separation project -- but the proposed fee would provide a new revenue source from which to fund the activities.

"To put more cost onto a water bill in an attempt to proliferate the belief that we just lowered taxes comes at a very heavy cost," Prigge said.

But Mayor David Kaptain, who supports the new fee, said it is important to shift more of the cost to the people who contribute most to runoff. He does not refute Prigge's argument that the fee would have a greater affect on large businesses.

"They cause a bigger part of the problem," Kaptain said. "No question about it. They'll pay more."

Jacobsen said the water rate study results should be ready by next summer with information about the stormwater fee coming by early fall for potential implementation Jan. 1, 2014. Any changes to the water rates or addition of fees are policy decisions the council will have to decide officially with study information in hand.

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