Lake County Gazette

Lake County Gazette

Friday, April 3, 2020

'Sewer System for Sale' – Granite City, Alton out in front of troubling trend


By Glenn Minnis | Jan 9, 2020

Illinois state Sen. Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry)

Illinois state Sen. Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry) points to the growing practice of towns and cities across the U.S. selling off their sewer and waste systems to private companies to help fund state pension systems as an example of just how upside down things have become.

“In general, are we now devolving away from community, residential infrastructure systems,” Wilcox told the Lake County Gazette. “I don’t know of any aspects where it has led to lower energy cost. What reason is there to have municipalities if they’re not providing services at the local level? If these systems are sold, the revenues should go to citizens of that town and they should be the ones to decide the way forward.”

Bloomberg News reports that a growing number of municipalities are now offering their public water and sewer systems for sale to private companies as a way of raising reserves. Across the nation, such deals have produced upward of a half billion dollars over the last five years.

Here in Illinois, where taxpayers are on the hook for at least $137 billion in unpaid pension liabilities, the trend is as prevalent as anywhere. In the Rust Belt town of Granite City, where unfunded pension liabilities have soared past $130 million, authorities are now in talks with Illinois American Water over control of the town’s sewer system. 

Those negotiations area a follow-up to town leaders moving in 2017 to sell-off a $40 million pension obligation bond as part of a plan to make payments into a pension system that’s long been underfunded. Last year, the town of Alton sold its wastewater system to Illinois American for nearly $54 million, all of which went toward its $134 million in pension debt.

“It’s all just a case of the government putting its own needs ahead of those of the citizens,” Wilcox said. “This is what happens when government is working for itself. If we let municipalities just be municipalities, and run things their own way, that would be one thing. But we continue to add state and federal regulations and dictate more of how they have to spend their revenue.” 

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