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The Lake Geneva City Council flinched on its takeover of the city’s sewer and water departments. Chairman of the Utility Department Dennis Lyons spoke against the city taking control of the sewer and water departments and then, later in the meeting, when Sewer & Water Ordinance 16-15 came up for the first reading, Alderman Kordus made the motion to table it. It was seconded and then tabled with a 5 to 3 vote. Alderpersons Chris Gelting, Ted Horne and Cindy Flower voted against the tabling motion. Tabling the sewer and water ordinance puts the ordinance on an indefinite hold until an alderman makes a motion to take the ordinance off the table, that motion is seconded, and then passes with a majority of the aldermen voting to remove it from the table.
To properly explain in detail all the sewer and water issues that are involved would take a small book; however, there are several key issues.
First: The current sewer and water utility commission is autonomous, meaning that it has the absolute right to govern itself, and the city has absolutely no control over anything that the utility commission does. Unlike the Lake Geneva Police Department, which is also autonomous (and it should be) the City Council still appoints that department’s chief, and approves the funding for the department, so the city has some influence, but not control, over its operation. However, with the utility commission, the city council has no such influence because it does not appoint its director, nor does it approve the department’s funding because the commission collects its own revenue and is accountable to no one from the outside. After years of misuse and abuse of its authority, while Dennis “I’m Still Here” Jordan was city administrator, soon to be administer, Blaine Oborn, went to a utility commission meeting to discuss some issue with the its members. After he asked his question he was effectively told to sit down and shut up. City administrator Utah Blaine Oborn wrote a memo explaining what was wrong with the utility commission’s operation and the running of the sewer and water departments, and what needed to be done to correct the problems. When the city council voted to have the city attorney draft an ordinance to have the city take over control of the sewer and water facilities, and to abolish the utility commission, the fear of God was driven like a stake into the commission’s very heart. All of a sudden the attitude of the utility commission changed and it became willing to accept almost anything to avoid being abolished.
Second: So what has the Utility Commission done that is wrong? They illegally purchased land. They selectively gave hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to organizations. When the tax levy was paid off and water rates should have been lowered, they kept them high and continued to illegally collect millions in the artificially inflated higher sewer and water rates. The 36% rate increase was based on the depreciation of the water system (which means that the system is deteriorating and that it is not being maintained). In 2008, “Piggy Bank” (as in ‘watch your’) Winkler said, in support of the Hummel development, that the City of Lake Geneva had a 50% surplus in sewer and water capacity and that the expansion of the sewer and water treatment facilities would not be needed to meet the increased demand the Hummel Development would put on the city’s systems. Today everyone is told that the city’s in desperate need of a new sewer ring. This commission built two parks on its own. Companies dumping sewage are given the same rate as citizens, but our rate is based on water usage, and not sewer sludge from septic tanks. The sewer and water utilities of Lake Geneva are a multimillion dollar enterprise run without a budget or proper accounting of revenue and expenses, including the yearly audits that do not meet the minimum standards for a government audit. Public areas are used for storage of personal items for selected personnel; company vehicles are “sold” to select personnel; the utility Commission does not pay its taxes; it pays an amount in lieu of taxes. Finally, why is a man fired by the city in 2002 still running anything in Lake Geneva, much less running the most powerful part of it and being paid the highest salary above all?
Third: Access to the city’s sewer and water is a critical aspect with all expansions and new developments for the city, but the city has no say in how it is run, or what deals that the utility commission makes or will make with developers. The Utility Commission was heavily involved with the sewer and water facilities for the Hummel project, which led to multi-year and multi-million dollar legal suits and huge financial losses, as well as the current planned expansion to go beyond the city’s boundaries to outlying areas which will increase revenue at everyone’s expense. It’s time for the city council to dredge up some courage and face these “good old boys” down. Bring this issue off the table and stop the bleeding of everyone’s funds.