Niles and Glenview are fighting in court over water payments, and residents have a reason to be concerned. When a judge rules in favor of one town, the residents of the other will most likely take a financial hit.
No one can predict yet how much individual residents might have to pay, but a significant amount of money is in dispute; Niles is suing Glenview for almost $6 million.
If Niles loses in court, Niles residents will wind up paying more money for water, said George Van Geem, Niles village manager.
"If Glenview is not paying their fair share and they pay less, everybody else is going to have to pick up the slack," said Van Geem.
"Now, North Maine Utilities (the water utility Glenview owns, which buys water from Niles and delivers it to residents mostly in unincorporated Maine Township) pays about 1/10th of Niles water system. If they're suddenly paying significantly less, everybody else's water rates are going to go up."
And if the judge should rule in Niles' favor, Glenview will suffer monetarily, said Eric Patt, Glenview's village attorney.
"It's Glenview's position that Niles has been significantly overcharging North Maine since 2002 and possibly 1997. The amount if money is in the millions," Patt said.
If that money were returned to North Maine, Patt said it would be used to make infrastructure improvements that would hopefully keep water at lower rates for Glenview residents.
"If North Maine had been charged lower rates over the years, it would have resulted in lower water rates for Glenview residents," Patt maintained.
"If rates for Niles had been what they should have been, it probably would have meant lower rates over the years (for Glenview)," he added.
He clarified that if Glenview loses, he could not say for sure if Glenview residents would pay a higher water rate.
The case is expected to go to court around June.
Niles changes its lawsuit
saying it was amending its lawsuit against Glenview so that it now seeks about $4 million in relief, and $1.84 million in punitive damages, against Glenview.
At a Niles press conference Friday, Jay S. Judge, an independent attorney representing Niles in the lawsuit, said that punitive damages typically run two to four times the amount in question, and by suing for punitive damages of half the ($4 million) amount, Niles is making its point without being unreasonable.
"We're saying, 'you're hurting us, you should have to pay a penalty,'" Judge told reporters.
He expressed surprise that the lawsuit had continued so long.
"We thought the case would just go away. It’s not worth it for two government bodies to waste money fighting this," he said.
Niles has spent $50,000 on legal costs in the so-called water wars already, according to the village manager.
Judge pointed to one issue as the crux of Glenview's argument: the fact that the village of Niles became aware 74 North Maine Utilities customers who live in Niles were being charged a sewer fee by North Maine. Because the village of Niles does not charge a sewer fee to its residents, Niles decided to rebate 19 percent of those residents' bills to them for a 15.5 month period ending in July 2011. Glenview representatives later said that meant Niles hadn't been charging North Maine the lowest rate for water, which is what the contract calls for.
"They allege we have a sewer charge in our water bills. They have our water bills, there’s no sewer charge," said Judge.
Van Geem said that the better the facts are understood, the clearer it is that Niles is right.
"There’s a contract that’s been in place since 1990, it’s been honored for 20 years, now it’s no good anymore, they want a lower rate," he said.