Wills: Quit hiding tiny fees, taxes in our utility bills

Wills: Quit hiding tiny fees, taxes in our utility bills

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I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little tired of the attacks on utility bills.

It smells - and I'm not just talking about the smelly, awful tasting city of Bloomington water.

But, as long as I'm on that subject, I've yet to hear a good explanation of why a city with a reputation of great-tasting water for decades was hit with foul-smelling water more than a year ago and hasn't resolved the problem. There have been short periods of problems before, but never months.

Remember in November 2004 when we were told the water taste would return to normal "in a few months."

Now we're told it could cost up to $5 million to correct the problem. I won't try to explain the problem because I don't understand the technical terms - and haven't fully accepted the explanations for how this happened.

It was the follow-up statement to the cost that got my dander up: It could mean an increase in Bloomington water bills.

I'm not against paying for improvements. I just have a hard time accepting another hit on what has become easy targets in recent years - utility bills in general.

Utility bills have become an easy revenue source for governments.

If they announce they're going to increase real estate taxes, they would get some static. But they have utility-bill increases and there is barely a peep.

As long as I will be accused of picking on Bloomington, I'll start there.

Including such things as garbage-collection fees on water bills allows city officials to levy another fee without saying they increased taxes for a needed service.

Only 52 percent of my 2005 water bills paid for water. No one has found a good way to measure sewage discharge, so 22 percent of my water charges is added on for sewer service. And then the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District took another 27 percent of the actual water cost. And finally there was a $1.15 monthly service fee plus a city utility tax.

For that $304 worth of water, I paid $586.

But my real estate tax rate wasn't increased.

I would bet the same scenario is happening in Normal - and other towns, too.

After I figured up the add-on fees for water, I checked my other utility bills (I'm a glutton for punishment).

I now understand why a lot of younger people are switching to cell phones and getting rid of their "land lines" at home.

Cell phones are generally more expensive, but there are plans that allow free long-distance calls. And am I glad.

Last month, I didn't have a single long-distance call on my telephone bill. Thank goodness. The bill was $36.66. Oh, my residential line bill was only $15.99 - a reasonable sum. But there were those little government fees again: federal excise tax, state sales tax, Illinois telecom excise tax, state infrastructure maintenance fee, Illinois universal service fee; Simplified Municipal Telecom tax, Emergency 911 (at least I know where that money is going, I think), Illinois Telecom Relay service and a Federal Universal fee.

Then it was on to my cable television bill. Not so many taxes there - just an FCC regulatory fee, a city tax of $1.19 a month and a monthly franchise fee. But they still tacked about $3.50 onto my monthly fee.

By the time I got to my electric bill, I wasn't shocked.

My monthly bills weren't too bad. But there was the $18.90 a month facilities charge (dummy me, I thought that would be a cost of doing business, not a monthly add-on); a city tax, a franchise tax that probably goes to the city, too; a state tax, an "Illinois Utility Tax"; and an Illinois Commerce Commission Regulatory Tax, a fancy name for more state taxes.

The least amount I paid was $29.34 in extra fees on my electric bill each month.

I wasn't a happy camper by the time I added up the basic monthly charge, environmental recovery charge, city and state taxes on my natural gas bill. I paid more than $10 per month for those add-on fees and charges.

And there you have it folks. Our governments at work. I sometimes get the feeling that bureaucrats spend much of their time dreaming up new fees so they can avoid being honest with people and saying, "We have to increase your taxes."

Bill Wills is editorial page editor of The Pantagraph. He can be reached at (309) 829-9000, ext. 220, or via e-mail at bwillsyayaypantagraph

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