Three years after DuPage United publicly called for the elimination of the sales tax collected by the DuPage Water Commission (DWC), the state legislature has set 2016 as the last year the DWC sales tax will be imposed on DuPage shoppers.
DuPage United supported passage of this bill, but is disappointed that the final version contained so little with regard to accountability to the voters and lasting fiscal reform. Even the reforms that remain have been publicly attacked by the current Commissioners.
The original version of SB 580, sponsored by State Senator Dan Cronin, would have folded the DWC into a separate county department, eliminating the sales tax by 2013. The final version of the bill signed by Gov. Quinn has few teeth. The Commission remains independent and comprised of appointed commissioners. The current commissioners are required to resign at the end of the year, but they can also be reappointed immediately. A key provision sunsets the sales tax in 2016, but the current commissioners have vowed to fight that provision. The law requires the DWC to send its audit to the DuPage County Auditor, yet does not require that office to review the document.
DuPage United has been monitoring the finances of the DuPage Water Commission (DWC) since December 2006. In 2007 our research showed that the Commission no longer needed the quarter-cent sales tax that they were collecting on all purchases in DuPage County. We shared our research with the Commission, other political leaders, and the media. The response of the DWC was to give away $40 million of their reserve (to Charter Member towns) and further lower an already-too-low water rate for the member towns (each town then marks up the water as they wish before selling it to their residents).
The flagrant mismanagement at DWC continued until a crisis situation was admitted in Fall 2009. It was then reported that all reserves of the Commission had inadvertently been spent and that the Commission had gone from a reserve thought to be $100 million in 2007 to a shortfall of $80 million in 2009. An investigation by Jenner & Block, which cost taxpayers over $400,000, resulted in findings of significant mismanagement and lack of oversight by the Commission. Part of the financial crisis was blamed on under pricing the water they sold to the towns. Both the General Manager and Treasurer resigned, but some key recommendations of the investigation have yet to be implemented.
If the DuPage Water Commission had followed the recommendations made by DuPage United in March and April 2007, they could have fairly quickly achieved exactly what it will now take them until 2016 to achieve--adequate reserves, retired bonds, no loans, relinquishment of the sales tax, and water rates that cover operation and maintenance costs. Attaining this in 2016 rather than in 2007 has already and will continue to cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
DuPage United will continue to monitor the activities of the DuPage Water Commission.