Water fight could lead to dry city

By Carly O'Keefe - bio | email

SESSER, IL (KFVS) - There's a water fight bubbling up between the City of Sesser and the Rend Lake Conservancy District.

Since July 2009, the city has been withholding thousands of dollars every month. Now with penalty fees Sesser is currently $116,633.00 past due.

Sesser Mayor Ned Mitchell believes a faulty meter caused his city to pay too much for its water for at least five years.

"I think we're around $130,000 that we feel we can prove we were overcharged," Mayor Mitchell said.

The Rend Lake Conservancy District disagrees.

"There was a meter test done in 2005 that showed the meter was accurate, there was another test in 2007 that showed it was accurate," said Keith Thomason, the general manager of the Rend Lake Conservancy District. "In 2008, the meter was found to be inaccurate, and at that point we replaced the meter, but the city does not accept the previous accurate tests."

But until the city recoup's the $130,000 it sees as a loss, Mayor Mitchell says it won't pay its bill in full.

"We're withholding $5,000 off our total bill every month," said Mitchell.

But Thomason says the town's water won't be on long enough for the city to withhold any more.

"Thirty Days from (Tuesday) will be the last day," said Thomason.

The water fight has already boiled into a legal battle. Sesser sued Rend Lake Conservancy, and Rend Lake counter-sued. But it could take years for the court to decide who's in the right.

In the meantime, Thomason says he has a simple solution.

"We've asked them to put that money in escrow, so the money will be there when the court rules on the issue," said Thomason. "The worst case would be if the citizens have been paying their bill to the city all this time and found out that their money wasn't there when the courts ruled. So we want to make sure that money is there."

The mayor says the money is there, but will stay in city hall. He says the money won't go into an escrow account.

"We pay our bills here, but we don't want to be taken advantage of either," said Mitchell. "The bottom line is they're not shutting the water off in Sesser."

Thomason says if Sesser puts that money in escrow - the water will stay on. But, he says if that's not done by April 15 and the bill is still not paid, Sesser will go dry.

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