Niles-Glenview Water War Continues; Planned Audit Gets Washed Away
Niles won't provide information that Glenview requested.
As the villages of Glenview and Niles continue to disagree over the cost of water that Niles provides to Glenview and environs, their positions are becoming anything but liquid.
Glenview had announced it would audit water bills and other materials sent by the village of Niles Friday, but that plan has been dissolved because Niles "unilaterally cancelled" the audit, said Glenview Village Attorney Eric Patt.
Glenview wants detailed info
Niles objected to the scope of the audit, for which Glenview requested not only water bills, but also information on how the village calculates its water rate, how it sets its general fund tax levy, and all revenue and expenditures pertaining to the water and sanitary sewer services.
At issue is nearly $700,000 that Glenview has withheld from Niles for water that Niles provided to a water utility that is owned by Glenview and serves 44,000 residents who mostly live in unincorporated areas southwest of the village.
That amount is for the water used by customers of North Maine Utilities in April and May. Payment of the June bill -- $369,155 – is headed for the same escrow account as the April and May bills, said Lynne Stiefel, Glenview’s communications director.
Glenview thinks Niles is bundling in sewer costs
Glenview began withholding payment in May because of a concern that Niles is overcharging North Maine for the water by including money for sanitary sewer service, which is not provided by Niles, according to a May 23 letter from Glenview Village Manager Todd Hileman to Niles Mayor Robert Callero. Niles responded June 22 by asking Cook County Chancery Court Judge Rita Novak for an injunction forcing Glenview to pay.
Meanwhile, on June 6, Glenview sent a letter to Niles asking for the information it says it needs to perform an audit as allowed by the agreement, originally signed in 1990 by Niles and a utility company that was later purchased by Glenview. The audit was set to begin Friday.
Niles: Requested info places burden on us
But Niles Village Manager George Van Geem said Wednesday that the agreement does not allow Glenview to demand everything that it did.
“As Glenview well knows, the contract provides for an audit of specific monthly invoices, but their request for volumes of unrelated information far exceeds both the letter and spirit of our agreement and unduly burdens Niles,” Van Geem wrote in an email. “Glenview wants an audit on its terms and its terms only, regardless of what they themselves originally agreed to. Glenview’s unwillingness to modify their request left us no choice but to suspend the audit. The contract is the contract, and they know very well what it says.”
Eric Patt said Glenview is looking at its legal options, including asking Judge Novak to force Niles to turn over the information Glenview requested.
Attorneys for both villages are working with the judge’s calendar to schedule a hearing, Patt said.
Why Glenview thinks Niles is overcharging
The dispute began when Glenview became aware that Niles was rebating sewer fees to its residents that are customers of North Maine, said Don Owen, Glenview’s assistant village manager.
There are about 75 customers of North Maine who live within Niles, Van Geem said, and the village did indeed agree last year to rebate 19 percent of their water bills, because North Maine also charges them for sanitary sewer service. The rebate is intended to put them on an equal footing with the rest of the residents of Niles, who do not pay a sewer fee, Van Geem said. The village chose 19 percent after surveying a number of communities to find out how their sewer fees compared to their water fees.
Patt said Glenview believes that Niles bundles its sewer costs in with the water bills even if sewer charges are not listed separately, and that any charges that actually pay for sanitary sewers – whether they are labeled as such or not – should not be included on North Maine’s water bills.
“It is our contention that they are calculating a water rate that is more than just a water rate,” Patt said.
The same day that Niles filed its motion asking for an injunction, Glenview offered to turn over 81 percent of the disputed funds, reserving only the 19 percent that it believes might represent sewer fees. Niles has not responded to that offer, Patt said. Van Geem said the issue is simple.
“Our position has not changed,” he said. “We provide the water to Glenview at rates agreed upon by contract, and we expect them to pay their bills. We supply, they buy. Our residents expect them to pay for the service -- just as they always have without fail since 1990.
“All Niles is asking is that Glenview comply with our longstanding agreement and pay for the water Niles has provided it.”