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Geneva Resident Asks for a Fairer Way to Charge for Sewer Service

A Fourth Street resident says his sewage bill increased in 2012 by almost $600 for water that went into the ground and not into Geneva's sewer system.

It's February and still a long way from summer watering season, but one Geneva resident is questioning why the city of Geneva charges a sewer fee for water that goes into the ground.

That's an issue city officials have been grappling with for some time and hope will be resolved via a new billing system scheduled to go on line in May.

Sewer bills generally are based on the amount of water a resident uses, as measured by a meter. The idea is that the amount of water a resident or business uses is the same as the amount that goes into the sewer system. 

But John Rittenhouse, a resident of Fourth Street, says that's not fair or accurate. Last spring, Rittenhouse and his wife invested in a new sprinkling system and found to his dismay that his sewage bill increased in 2012 by almost $600.

"At the time of the installation, my plumber asked if he could file with the city for a reverse meter to put on my water line that is used to support the sprinkling systems," he said. "Needless to say, Geneva does not offer such a program."

Ritttenhouse says reverse meters track the amount of water that is used for outdoor use, which then can be subtracted from the total water to more accurately calculate the user's sewage volume.  

"From what I understand, there are several communities throughout Chicago that have adopted such a program recognizing there should not be a charge for sewage for water used outdoors that does not (go into) our sewer system," Rittenhouse said.

"Can you imagine if you multiplied this by all the Geneva residents whouse water for their property that doesn't enter the sewage system?" he said.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns told Rittenhouse via e-mail last summer that adding an irrigation meter to every home in Geneva is cost prohibitive and the city does not have the staffing to maintain such a program.

That said, "the council will be considering implementing a summer cap on sewer charges based on a nine-month average once the city's new billing system is up and running," Burns said. So that topic could be coming up for debate in City Hall.

And that's all that Rittenhouse is looking for.

"At the very least, let's start the discussion or fact finding," he said.

The city conducted an extensive water-rate study in May 2012 in hopes of establishing a rate structure that would compensate for the fluctuation in water use each year. When there's a drought and consumption is high, the city has enough revenue to maintain the system. But when there's a lot of rainfall and consumption is low, there's not enough revenue to support infrastracture improvements and maintenance.

In June, the city approved a 5 percent water-rate increase and 6 percent sewer-rate increase.

Scott Lang February 16, 2013 at 03:37 AM
I'm more outraged by the bogus $25 annual fee for having a sprinkler system. Do I really need two or three reminder letters to get my backflow checked?
Tom Brown February 16, 2013 at 12:18 PM
Jim: Death, Taxes and Water Bills will exist wherever I'd move. Jen: We know this going in? We have a choice? John R. knew going in and had a choice. The city has been charging the same way for water for years before he decided to install a sprinkler. He chose to install a sprinkler and use more water on his yard. Now, though, he gets a break no one has had before. Beginning this summer, the city is providing a clever and simple "viable option". That option is that the sewer consumption will soon be based on the non-watering season. When John R. waters his lawn, he'll get a nice break. That starts next year. No extra meters required. It's simple and it's a lot fairer than before to guys like John. The actual cost of running the sewage treatment system has a lot more to do with how many people use toilets, how much detergent and if you have a disposal in your sink. It's not really just the water. It's also the "stuff in the water". That's really hard to measure. Keep it simple. I think this is a very good answer to John R's dilemma. City doesn't want extra meters to monitor and more city overhead for the sake of satisfying one class of residents' vague sense of "accuracy". It's not just about gallons anyway. Gallons are just a way of meting out the costs to everyone. I think John R. should give this new deal a try.
Mr Wolf February 17, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Why did the city just leave a note on my back door that they want to replace my water meter if they do not have any money for meters?
Katherine Filkins February 18, 2013 at 05:25 PM
Our water and sewer bill doubled, and all we did was water the plants. Not a bit of lawn was watered. Our renter had her rates double and was told that it was because of "summer rates," and she does not pay the watering part of the bill. Guess those showers really doubled the cost.
Tom Brown February 18, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Ya know....I just got my city bill and it was DOUBLE this month over last month. I expect this from Nigas, but not from the city. What the heck is going on? I'm going to study it tonight. I think it's the electric, but I see no reason for higher electric this month. Hmmm....

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