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TROUBLESHOOTERS: Washington man questions minimum fee on his water bill

Life in Gary Mueller’s Washington home can be pretty simple.

It’s just him and his dog, so some mornings the only dish he has to wash is a coffee cup.

“I think my largest was 1,700 gallons of water a month and that was in the summer. I watered my lawn a ton just because I knew I had to pay for that amount of water,” said Gary Mueller, who questioned the amount of his water bill.

Mueller’s service comes from the North Tazewell Public Water District.

The East Peoria facility provides water to about 8,500 people.

Households are billed $19.04 a month if they use between 0-3,300 gallons of water; the price goes up from there.

Mueller’s bill from December 26th-January 29th, 2019 shows he used 1,540 gallons.

He said it’s frustrating to be billed for a resource he’s not using the full amount of.

Mueller added, “Charge for what you use and that’s it.”

Mueller says the only reason he even knows about the minimum charge is because he called the water district, but he feels he wasn’t heard.

“They just said that’s what the minimum is and that’s what they use and they weren’t very receptive on even listening to what I had to say,” Mueller added.

Heart of Illinois ABC called the district and set up an interview with the general manager.

David Wheeler, with the North Tazewell Public Water District, said minimums are based on financial history.

“We can simply explain that’s based on our yearly costs that we have to pay for. Just like if you own your home and you need a new roof you have to plan for that. If you have a brand new roof you know you’re not going to pay for one for another 30 years. We do the same thing here. Just maintain our entire system,” said David Wheeler, General Manager of the North Tazewell Public Water District.

He adds most municipalities have a minimum and the district has had one in place since 1955.

The district provides service through parts of East Peoria and Washington for houses and apartments.

Wheeler added, “The reason we service in both cities is because it was an unincorporated area back in the ’50s and there wasn’t any water up here.

Wheeler said the minimum is based on a $5.77 per thousand gallons.

“It’s a monopoly basically it’s the only company we can use,” said Mueller.

So what would Mueller like to see happen?

“Again charge me for what I use. When I go fill up my gas tank, I’m charged for how much I put in there not for how much I could potentially use. Just be fair and not encourage waste. It’s a natural resource that we could run out of and the way they’re doing it encourages it,” said Mueller.

Wheeler said it’s just not that simple and it comes down to being proactive.

“We have to have that money per month to keep operational,” added Wheeler.

The minimum goes up 3% a year and Wheeler said that’s to keep up with costs and capital gains.

Technicians measure the water meters through a radio.

The other issue Mueller says he has?

There’s nothing on his bill stating the company has a minimum charge or a note that he paid the previous statement.

Wheeler added that’s the districts software format and when customers sign up for water service, the minimum rate is explained to them.

Jessica Cook

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