Burr Ridge residents may owe hundreds in under paid water bills

Paul May, Burr Ridge public works director, shows one of the old residential water meters to Village Board members during Monday's meeting as Trustees Leonard Ruzak (left) and John Manieri look on. | Kevin Beese/For Sun-Times Media
Paul May, Burr Ridge public works director, shows one of the old residential water meters to Village Board members during Monday's meeting as Trustees Leonard Ruzak (left) and John Manieri look on. | Kevin Beese/For Sun-Times Media

Discrepancies between inside and outside water meters could leave some Burr Ridge residents having to pay hundreds of dollars to the village.

Paul May, the village’s public works director, said of the 580 meter installations over the last seven years that can be tracked electronically, 43 percent have had bill discrepancies. Those discrepancies have averaged $642.

“I believe that 43 percent is high,” May said this week when trying to estimate how many of the remaining 2,800 homes needing new meters may have bill discrepancies.

He said there would be no discrepancies in five years when all meters have been replaced.

A divided Village Board decided Monday on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Mickey Straub casting the deciding vote, to collect underpayments at a discounted rate.

“I do not believe it is legal, fair or reasonable for the village to go back decades to collect discrepancy fees that were not properly billed at the time the water was used,” said Trustee Diane Bolos. “The fact that the village expects to collect over $1 million in discrepancy fees is a clear and convincing indication that this village should have taken steps to correct the problem.”

She added that it is not fair “to go back 10, 15, 30 years for money when people did not know there was a discrepancy.”

Village attorney Scott Uhler said the municipality does have a right to collect the discrepancy funds.

Straub said he feels for residents, most notably seniors, who may be hit with the additional charges because of meter discrepancies. He said the village will do whatever it can to work with people found to have a water-use discrepancy and required to pay more to the village.

He added, though, that it is right for people who used water to pay for the water.

“It is like if you and your neighbor both have cable TV,” Straub said. “If he has an additional sports channel, should you pay for that? No, he should pay for it.”

Village Administrator Steve Stricker said the municipality normally puts on the front of water bills once or twice a year the directive for residents to check both their inside and outside meters for discrepancies.

Trustee Guy Franzese held up a stack of water bills, saying that was not the case.

“It has not been on the (front of the) bills I have for 15 months,” he said.

He noted that information is only in the small print on the back of the bill.

Trustee John Manieri said even if people did read the village’s meter-checking request, it is not always easy to get to your inside water meter.

“People have 10 years of Christmas stuff, 10 years of kids stuff stored away,” Manieri said. “It can be incredibly hard (to get to a meter).”

Trustee Al Paveza said he wrestled with the issue, but with deficits looming down the road for the village, he cannot turn a blind eye to the discrepancies and grant amnesty as had been proposed.

“You pay for the water you used,” Paveza said.

As proposed, the village will not collect under payments for the last four years in recognition of the Chicago rate escalation. Reconciliation is based on village’s average Tier 1 rate, excluding those four years. An ordinance, putting the collection plan in place, will be voted on at the June 23 board meeting.

Public Works Director May said the outside meters have stopped working for a variety of reasons, including freezing up in winter, being hit with a football, getting wet from irrigation spraying or becoming a home for insects.

Trustee Janet Ryan Grasso urged residents concerned about possible discrepancies and needing help reading their meters to contact the village.

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