Wauconda mayoral candidate Frank Bart is criticizing the town's new water billing process, calling the 20-percent penalty for late payments "almost usurious."
"Most credit cards don't even go that high," Bart told the Daily Herald during a candidate endorsement interview Wednesday at the newspaper's Libertyville office.
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Incumbent Mayor Mark F. Knigge defended the late fee and the billing process as a whole. During the same session, Knigge bristled at Bart's accusations that the fee is unethical.
"Every time someone doesn't pay their bill, you pay it," Knigge said, referring to other residents in general. "We have to make sure that (service) pays for itself."
Bart and Knigge are facing off in the April 9 election. They discussed property taxes, the town's business climate and other issues during the hourlong session.
The recently changed billing process for water service was a particularly contentious subject.
Starting last year, Wauconda property owners are charged for water usage monthly instead of quarterly.
Among other changes:
• Bills are sent on the third day of each month, instead of the 15th day.
• Payments are due 14 days later, rather than 20.
• The fee for having the village shut off or turn on water jumped from $50 to $75.
• The $35 fee associated with red tags for lack of payment was eliminated because the tags no longer will be used.
• The penalty for a bill paid late increased to 20 percent, from 10 percent.
This last change drew Bart's ire.
"I don't think it's justifiable," said Bart, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who has served in the Middle East.
Bart vowed to change the late fee and the billing cycle if elected.
"Absolutely," he said. "If they want a monthly bill, they can have it. If they want a quarterly bill, they can have it."
Village officials have said the new billing cycle ensures payments arrive the same month the bills go out, which improves bookkeeping accuracy.
Knigge, a former village trustee who was elected mayor in 2009, defended the process and the fees. Those charges are in place to ensure water services is a self-sustaining financial enterprise, he said.
"It is a break-even (enterprise)," said Knigge, a retired Abbott Laboratories employee. "We are not making money on that."
Knigge pointed to the elimination of the red-tag system as a positive change for residents, even though it means less revenue for the village.
"That's costing us between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, because we eliminated that," Knigge said.
Additionally, the village offers payment schedules for people struggling to pay their water bills, Knigge said.