Residents decry letter from Elgin Twp. as endorsement of vendor

A letter signed by Elgin Township offering to sell residents a service program that covers repairs to exterior water and sewer lines caused consternation among residents.

The letter said the township partnered with Service Line Warranties of America "to help eligible homeowners be prepared and have the best possible service in cases of such an emergency." The company is the consumer brand of Utility Service Partners, which administers the service line warranty program, a partnership with the National League of Cities. Residents would get access to 24/7 emergency repair services with payments starting at $5.75 per month, the letter states, asking for a reply by July 26.

Elgin Township joined the program in March after a 4-1 vote by the board, Township Supervisor Franklin Ramirez said.

The township, which includes about 35,000 parcels of land mostly in Elgin and South Elgin, gets 50 cents per resident who signs up, Ramirez said. No public funds were spent for the mailings, which were sent by Utility Service Partners and will come twice a year, he said.

Several residents objected at a township board meeting last week.

"Your business is to take care of seniors, not to take care of somebody else's business," Elgin resident Carl Missele said.

"You're all a government entity. You're not supposed to endorse any vendor," said former township trustee Randy Endean of South Elgin.

Ramirez said the township is not endorsing but "lending credibility" to the service offered by Service Line Warranties of America.

Cherie Aschenbrenner, elderly service officer for Elgin police, told the board that she and the city's 311 Contact Center got lots of calls about the letter. Seniors are particularly susceptible to believing they need the service "because they saw your logo," she said.

Ramirez said he was not happy the materials didn't include the private company's signature and logo. Information about Utility Service Partners is at the bottom of the letter. "Our intentions were very pure. How it rolled out, not so much," he said.

The form of the letters "is the same or similar to those used in cities throughout the country," said Myles Meehan, senior vice president for HomeServe USA, parent company of Service Line Warranties of America. "Our team honestly believed that Mr. Ramirez gave us the go-ahead," he said.

Ramirez took some responsibility, saying he got an email from the company asking for approval of the materials, but without attachments, and didn't follow-up. "I can't point the finger to them completely," he said. Future letters will have the private company's logo "if I can help it," Ramirez said.

More than 700 communities across the country are part of the program; 35 are in Illinois, including Hampshire, North Chicago and Hanover Park, Meehan said.

"The main issue here (in Elgin Township) is that residents are learning about this program for the first time, are skeptical and as a result are raising questions," he said.

Ramirez said joining the program "was an opportunity to educate and offer residents an opportunity to get additional insurance." Many homeowners don't know they are responsible for exterior pipes running to the water main, he said.

"It's definitely been an educational experience," he said.

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