Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DuPage United Delegate Assembly 10-07-10

It’s no secret Illinois is in financial trouble, and it’s no wonder either! Many of our government units proceed unchecked and unaccountable, resisting reform and guarding their turf. Our best local example is the DuPage Water Commission. 
In early 2007 it was in the enviable position of having excess reserves. At that time, DuPage United very publicly encouraged the Commission to (1) earmark part of those reserves to make the remaining bond payments, (2) ease water rates back to a sustainable level, and (3) give up the quarter cent sales tax collected on our purchases in DuPage County. This tax generated over $30 million a year and had created a big piggy bank at a time it could have done more good in the pockets of taxpayers or funding pressing needs of the community. 
Yet when DuPage United asked the Water Commissioners to take these three steps, their response was to guard what they saw as their money. First they diverted $40 million to member towns with no strings attached. Legal? Probably only in Illinois! Then they lowered the water rate paid by the towns, even though the rate was already below cost. These actions were taken to justify keeping their sales tax. 
While they were scrambling to spend down reserves, they lost track of finances. Raiding the piggy bank, selling water at a loss, funding new construction projects and not keeping track of their bank balances inadvertently used up all of the reserves and then some…in just over two years! By last fall the Commission needed to borrow $70 million. 
During the years of fiscal mismanagement, there was a consistent voice calling for restraint. Commissioner Liz Chaplin, whose appointment ended last June, was ignored and even ridiculed by other Commissioners, but outside investigators brought in to find out where all the money went lauded her efforts. Tonight we want to thank Liz Chaplin for 8 years of dedicated service as a Water Commissioner -- 
Our ongoing analysis of the Commission led us to support Senate Bill 580 last spring—a bill intended to fold the Water Commission into county government, something recommended by the Civic Federation in 2006. Some mayors spent a lot of taxpayer money fighting that bill, and in the end, the only real changes that passed call for the current Commissioners to resign at the end of this year and for the sales tax to sunset in 2016. Commissioners can, of course, be reappointed, and some are already looking for ways to keep the sales tax. 

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