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Residents fear cost of Volo’s plan for water

VOLO – Cathy Wimer is living paycheck to paycheck, underwater on her Volo home’s mortgage and with no clue how she’d handle a proposed water rate increase.

That’s what she told the Volo Village Board at a meeting Tuesday evening.

The meeting was a chance for Volo residents to learn about a project that could change their water source to Lake Michigan instead of the deep, but radium-contaminated, wells currently used.

But many of the questions posed by residents went unanswered.

“I want to see how they’re going to pay for it,” said John Mayr, a 51-year-old resident who frequently speaks at meetings. “This is what I thought the meeting was going to be about.”

There isn’t a set price tag for the project yet, Village President Burnell Russell said, and there isn’t likely to be one until January.

The engineer giving the presentation, Peter Stoehr, a city engineer for Manhard Consulting, though, put the per-household cost at between $500 to $600 for several years.

The buy-in to the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency’s system, a nine-village cooperative, would cost $50 million collectively for the five interested communities, Russell said. Volo’s portion would be about 7 percent.

But that doesn’t include the cost of actually running the pipe to Volo. One plan has Volo and nearby Wauconda splitting the cost, but Wauconda, unlike Volo, is not home rule and so would need to get voter approval.

But unless the village, which has a population of about 3,000, translates its anticipated commercial growth into actual growth, Russell isn’t sure how the village would afford it. The goal is to offset as much of that cost as possible with sales tax revenue.

When asked what’s the Plan B if the growth doesn’t happen, Russell responded confidently, “It’s going to come through. If I didn’t feel good about it, I wouldn’t do it.”

He pointed to the growth the community has seen so far. Its sales tax revenue is 10 percent above where it was a year ago, he said.

One resident asked whether current residents could be grandfathered in. He said it would be easier for new residents and businesses to budget accordingly.

And either way, Russell said, the village will have to do something about its water.

To meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, the village must remove radium, a carcinogen, from the water and have the discharge disposed of. It can be costly, and because the village’s contract is up in 40 years, the cost is expected to rise, he said.

“It’s not that I’m against the plan of bringing in water,” Wimer said. “I’m sure that it’s an issue we need to address. Water is not an endless source. But it’s more about how we’re going to pay for it.”

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