Hebron faces overdue bill for sewer plant

HEBRON – With frustrations over high water bills already boiling over, the village is backed up on a $175,000 payment toward its wastewater treatment plant.

Now Hebron officials are looking to restructure the loan the village received to build the plant in 2005 through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency – a proposition that has proved challenging to another nearby municipality.

The village had so far been making interest-only payments.

“We’re waiting to find out what we can do,” Hebron Trustee Susan Ritzert said. “It’s a rough situation and people are unhappy.”

In 2005, Hebron officials elected to build a new plant for about $4.5 million rather than redo the village’s 20-year-old system for about $2 million, a decision that was supposed to allow the village to grow. At the time, the 1,100-person village had developments lined up to at least double the population.

But the housing bust shifted the burden to existing residents and drove up water bills.

It’s a scenario known all too well by nearby Richmond, which received a $7.5 million loan through the IEPA in 2007 for its plant to be paid back over 20 years. The village got an original five-year extension to pay interest only on its loan, Village President Peter Koenig said.

But about a year ago, with the economy still down and the village unable to afford the coming $450,000 payments, officials made a presentation to the IEPA in an attempt to rework the loan in order to get principal forgiveness or a term extension.

They received a counteroffer which would have reduced payments to $375,000 a year, “which is still out of our reach,” Koenig said. Instead, the IEPA granted Richmond an extension to pay interest only for one more year. Officials have made other attempts to get the village ready to take on bigger payments this spring, but attempts to modify the loan continue.

“One of the things that I think is preventing the EPA from working with us is that they know we are not the only community in this situation,” Koenig said.

With the $175,000 bill – a semiannual payment – now about two months past due to the IEPA, Hebron has been in touch with state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, for help.

Althoff, who helped facilitate talks between the EPA and Richmond, has high hopes something can be reached with regards to Hebron. She is meeting with village officials soon.

“I am absolutely confident the state of Illinois can do all in its power to come to some kind of agreement that doesn’t bankrupt the village,” she said.

For his part, Village President John Jacobson has been in talks with the IEPA already and wants to work with Althoff to find a solution.

“I don’t want to cause any more cost to our people, our village,” he said.

It’s unknown what it would mean if the loan isn’t ultimately modified, but residents within Hebron continue to express disdain for high water costs. A Hebron resident wrote a letter to the editor to the Northwest Herald earlier this month complaining of a bill over $500 and saying she’s moving in the spring.

Another resident, Tammy Lillie, pays about $310 every three months for her bill in a four-person household.

“Nothing makes sense to us,” Lillie said. “The last water bill, it doesn’t make sense that it was $66 for water and the rest was all sewage.”

Residents have been strapped with high water bills related to the project for years. Some have said the bills were a defining factor in the spring election, during which longtime incumbent Frank Beatty was overtaken by Jacobson.

Jacobson had pending charges for felony possession of crack cocaine during the election. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Had he been convicted of a felony, Jacobson would have been removed from office.

“Everyone that was supporting him said, ‘Just be quiet, he’s going to lower our water bill,’ “ Lillie said.

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