DuPage plan outlines steps to dissolve Lombard-area agency

DuPage County Board members are poised to vote on a plan to dissolve the Highland Hills Sanitary District and provide Lake Michigan water to customers served by the Lombard-area agency.

Highland Hills manages sanitary sewer service and water operations for roughly 465 residential and business properties in Lombard. A separate entity, the Flagg Creek Water Reclamation District, treats the sewage.

But a proposed intergovernmental agreement is calling on the county to acquire Highland Hills' water system. Flagg Creek would acquire Highland Hills' sanitary system, as part of the proposal.

If approved by the county board next week, the agreement would pave the way for Highland Hills to eventually be disbanded.

"It will be the biggest dissolution of a government entity that we've done so far in DuPage County when it's complete," Nicholas Kottmeyer, DuPage's director of public works and operations, said Tuesday.

"It's going to take a while," he stressed. "But we are going to start that transition upon ratification next week."

County board member Jim Healy said the intergovernmental agreement is the culmination of years of discussion and work.

Highland Hills came under scrutiny in 2012, when a consulting firm hired by DuPage found problems with the district.

At the time, Crowe Horwath concluded there were "significant concerns" about the district's sustainability. The district, for example, was deficit spending and maintaining an aging infrastructure.

In 2013, state lawmakers gave DuPage the power to eliminate Highland Hills and a dozen other local government entities. The county hired Christopher B. Burke Engineering to assess the district.

The assessment found Highland Hills had taken steps to address issues raised in the Crowe Horwath report.

Its water distribution system, which delivers treated well water, is in good shape. But the sewer collection system needs roughly $1.1 million in repairs.

Earlier this year, the county surveyed Highland Hills customers to ask if they wanted the agency to continue as a stand-alone entity. Of the 351 customers that responded, 296 supported disbanding Highland Hills.

"Government works slowly but eventually gets the job done," Healy said.

Healy said Highland Hills customers would benefit from the plan because they would pay less for better service.

As part of the plan, repairs and upgrades to the water distribution and sewer collection systems would be completed in two years. More than $500,000 in Highland Hills' reserve fund would be used to help pay for the capital improvements.

Meanwhile, a goal would be to complete the conversion to Lake Michigan water by the end of this year or the start of 2018.

"The number one priority is to improve the service to the residents out there," Kottmeyer said. "So we're working to get them the Lake Michigan water as quickly as possible to improve the level of service."

County officials said it's fortunate that Flagg Creek is willing to be a partner. Flagg Creek's service area includes all or parts of Clarendon Hills, Oakbrook Terrace, Burr Ridge, Hinsdale, Darien, Willowbrook, Elmhurst, Westmont, Oak Brook, Villa Park, and Lombard.

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