They live in Lisle, Illinois. They use water and sewers just like other Lisle residents. The difference? Four hundred Lisle Oak View residents (sometimes rendered “Oakview”) are serviced by the private company Illinois American Water instead of the Village of Lisle – and for that “privilege” they pay “287 percent higher than Lisle residents pay for village water service and 792 percent higher than for village sewer service,” according to a village study as reported a couple weeks ago by the Lisle Sun. The water problem is longstanding and involves problems and concerns not only with cost – but with maintenance and public safety. From the January 30th Daily Herald:
“Susan Srail and Elizabeth Peery are tired of paying water bills to a private utility that total twice as much as other Lisle residents pay for the same water delivered by the village.
Lucy Utley has grown tired of not receiving notices from that same utility of orders to boil her water until days after they go into effect.
And Lisle-Woodridge Fire District Chief Thomas Freeman is growing tired of trying to make the utility raise the water pressure in hydrants near two Lisle schools as a matter of public safety.”
Members of the Oak View community, frustrated by lack of action and delayed action by public officials, while their money goes down the drain and their safety is compromised by Illinois American Water, formed the Oak View Community Association (OVCA). In their local advocacy and attempts to deal with local water issues they resemble other local resident activists like Liz Chaplin, who have found that they need to get politically involved in local government due to water concerns in order to protect their property and health. To paraphrase OVCA, they need to get involved because the community belongs to its residents!
While I haven’t written about the Oak View water story – I’ve been following it. Now I believe there may be a good opportunity for the members of the Oak View community, and other communities “serviced” by Illinois American Water, to act. It seems that Illinois American Water may have been overcharging customers elsewhere in Illinois and in Missouri (the parent company American Water is the largest water provider in the U.S. serving 29 states plus Canada). From Thursday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is calling for a massive state audit of the company that sells water to tens of thousands of Metro East area residents after an investigation found hundreds, perhaps thousands, of customers were charged for ‘zero’ water use while others were charged thousands of dollars for a single month of service.
The company, Illinois American Water, serves about 1 million people throughout Illinois. A sister company, Missouri American Water, serves about 1.5 million people in Missouri….
Madigan wants results of the Illinois investigation sent to all other states where the water company operates….
One of American’s subsidiary companies handles billing and customer service for customers across the country. Customer calls nationwide go into two call centers, including one in Alton.
That centralized billing is cause for concern, says Scott Rubin, the investigator Madigan hired. He said the problems in Illinois suggested that American’s customers nationwide might be experiencing the same billing errors.
Rubin, a lawyer from Pennsylvania, is a nationally recognized expert who has testified dozens of times in water rate cases. He examined thousands of billing records, most of them from the Chicago suburbs. He said American’s billing errors were pervasive and probably existed throughout the company’s Illinois operations:
‘Somebody who would normally get a bill for seven or eight thousand gallons would get (billed for) maybe 50,000 gallons. I saw one as high as 179,000 gallons,’ Rubin said. ‘A bill with water and sewer combined that might be $90 or $100 would all of a sudden be $500 or $600.’
American said that it had no evidence of widespread errors and intended to fix any problems.
The company said it would respond fully next month with testimony before the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Rubin said many of the practices he uncovered appeared to be in direct violation of the commerce commission’s regulations and of reasonable industry practices.
He said American:
- Had numerous problems with the quality and accuracy of its bills and metering.
- Improperly issued ‘make-up’ bills to hundreds of customers, did not provide truthful and accurate information about the cause of the bills, and failed to refund the makeup charges with interest as state regulations require.
- Did not adequately track and investigate the cause of bills that were issued for zero consumption.
- Issued bills that didn’t show the per-unit charge for purchased water, another violation of state regulations.
He said the company issued some bills for 30 to 40 times more water than normal for a single month.
‘It doesn’t look like they have any process in place to find a lot of errors,’ Rubin said.
The attorney general hired Rubin after receiving hundreds of complaints last year about high water bills. Madigan has since filed a formal complaint with the Commerce Commission on behalf of consumers….
Whom to call
Consumers with complaints about their water bills should call state agencies.
In Illinois, the state Commerce Commission: 1-800-524-0795.”
If I were a Lisle Oak View resident I think I’d call a few people in addition to the Commerce Commission – just to make sure they knew about the Oak View situation and the allegations against Illinois American Water:
I’d let Lisa Madigan know you’re happy she’s looking into allegations of overcharging – and mention you believe Oak View is overcharged too [Click here to email the Consumer Protection Division.]
I’d call Lisle Mayor Joseph Broda and Trustees in Lisle and ask them if they’ve heard about Lisa Madigan’s investigation.
And if I were an Illinois American Water customer, anywhere, I think I’d be making some phone calls to my local and state government officials too. In Illinois that would be about a million calls – and a small fraction of that would likely get some big results.
It’s long past time for Oak View residents to pay reasonable prices for reasonable water and sewer service – just like other Lisle residents. Lisa Madigan’s investigation may be their golden opportunity to finally get positive results.