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updated: 3/1/2013 11:42 AM

Wauconda board candidates criticize water bills; opponents support changes

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Three of Wauconda's trustee candidates are upset about recent changes to the town's billing process for water service, particularly the switch to monthly statements and increased late fees.

The critics are opposition candidates running as part of the "One Wauconda" slate. Teri Burke, Chuck McEwen and Manuelita Vargas are first-time candidates allied with mayoral challenger Frank Bart.

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Their opponents in the April 9 election -- John Barbini, Lincoln Knight and Wade Meyer -- are members of Mayor Mark Knigge's "United Wauconda" slate. All three support the changes to the bills.

Barbini and Knight are incumbents who voted for the changes. Meyer is a newcomer.

Three trustee seats are on the ballot. All carry 4-year terms.

Burke, McEwen and Vargas voiced concerns about the water bills during a candidate endorsement interview session this week at the Daily Herald's Libertyville office. The other candidates were asked about the billing changes in subsequent interviews.

The billing changes were approved last year. Primarily, Wauconda property owners now 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.

• 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.

McEwen called the changes his top campaign issue. He wants to reduce the late fee and increase the time people have to pay their bills.

He also supports letting residents decide if they want monthly or quarterly bills.

"People should have a choice," he said.

Burke cited the water bills as "the most pressing issue" in the election.

"The late fees are exorbitant," Burke said.

Vargas sees the monthly billing as an opportunity for village hall to collect more revenue through late fees, since bills will be due 12 times a year instead of four. She questioned the costs of monthly billing, too, since more bills being mailed to residents means more ink and paper costs annually.

Barbini defended his vote, saying monthly billing allows more efficient meter readings, particularly as technology improves. He also said monthly billing allows residents to plan their budgets more effectively.

As for the late fee, the 20-percent surcharge replaces the $35 fee for red tags once assessed for lack of payment.

"In essence, depending on your bill, a 20-percent late fee could be less than the $35 red tag fee," Barbini said.

Eliminating the red tag process has cost the village $60,000 in revenue, Barbini said.

Knight stood by his vote, too. When asked if the process is open to tweaks, he said officials are "always ready to listen to our residents."

One change already has been reversed. Payments were to be due 14 days after the billing date, but that window has been extended to 20 days -- what it was before the changes were enacted.

Meyer said he's OK with monthly billing and the new late penalty. In speaking to friends and neighbors, Meyer said none have raised water rates as an issue.

"I must admit I have not really heard many people, other than our competition, speak about this topic," he said.

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