SYCAMORE – Sycamore city officials approved a $6.90 water bill base fee that would go toward city funds for water system improvements following residents expressing concerns about foul-smelling city water and discrepancies of lead levels in water tests.
The Sycamore City Council voted, 7-0, during their Monday meeting via Zoom to approve the base fee following previous city official discussion as recent as the council’s Oct. 19 meeting.
Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said the city created a water master plan in 2019 addressing city underground water main improvements – including main breaks, water quality and fire flows – totaling $11.25 million. He said the fee is meant to be a funding source for those master plan projects.
"The projects will continually be reviewed and re-prioritized as we go," Gregory said.
Gregory said the fee would take effect on the bills that would go out to residents on Jan. 1, 2021.
"This should generate enough revenue to do essentially those ... priority projects" addressing water quality specifically, Gregory said.
Gregory said staff already has told the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency they were interested in borrowing money for more immediate funding for some water mater plan improvements. He told aldermen the approved fee is part of proving to the agency the city has the means to repay a loan from IEPA.
"That would be something that we would be looking at in the first quarter of 2021," Gregory said. "Once that fee is implemented, we would start that next step."
Gregory said the city also has applied for a grant program through IEPA that would help residents replace lead service lines. Though the line from the main to the home is the resident's responsibility, he said, but the city wanted people to know they were trying to address those concerns as well by applying for that competitive program back in February.
"Hopefully we can bring some of those grant dollars here to help with the replacement of those service lines," Gregory said.
The update comes after residents Jennifer Campbell, of the 400 block of Edward Street, and Jeremy Pennington, of the 600 block of Park Avenue, filed a class action lawsuit against the city on Friday after months of public outcry over concerns about water quality. The suit was filed on several counts, including fraud, deceptive business, negligence and public nuisance.
Campbell is part of a group of residents calling themselves Citizens for Clean Water Sycamore.
The group has said it identified two major problems involving city water: a foul-smelling odor that prohibits them from using it, and concerning amounts of lead in the water. It’s unclear whether the two issues are related, as officials are still working to identify the source of the odor and thus far, maintain that lead levels within city water are safe.
Campbell declined additional comment on Monday regarding the lawsuit. She deferred to her previous comments made to city officials during past public meetings, including water in her home that had a “horrific smell” following the replacement of the Park Avenue water main about three to four years ago.
Gregory also declined comment about the lawsuit on Monday.