If you want to set up a new water account in Sterling, it’s a pretty easy process.
Getting service is just a phone call away. No need for a photo ID, deposit or forms.
It’s not so simple elsewhere.
Across the river in Rock Falls, a new customer is asked to come into City Hall to show a photo ID and fill out an application. Then the customer has to pay a $150 deposit, which is also for the city’s electricity and trash services.
Sterling’s water system is owned by a private company, Illinois American Water. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Water, which runs water utilities around the United States and Canada.
For Dixon, the process of getting new water service is similar to Rock Falls’. Dixon requires a photo ID, but not an application. Its deposit is $100, but unlike Rock Falls, you cannot pay by credit card.
Neither Morrison nor Amboy requires a photo ID. People can call either city to get water service started and pay deposits by credit card over the phone. Morrison has a $75 deposit for its utilities, while Amboy requires only renters, not homeowners, to pay a $75 deposit.
“We have a form they need to fill out. They can print it online,” Morrison City Clerk Melanie Schroeder said. “We started with credit cards 3 or 4 years ago. We really like it. It’s a very simple process here.”
Sterling’s private water utility charges a $10 activation fee, which can be assessed on a customer’s first bill.
“We have a commitment to our customers to make it as easy as possible,” Illinois American spokeswoman Karen Cotton said. “This process is followed in our other districts across the state.”
Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said his city requires the photo ID because it wants to check the information against its other records to determine whether the person has past-due utility bills.
“Sometimes people move from one location and leave a big utility bill behind,” he said. “We collect data, but we don’t share it with other creditors.”
The deposit, Wescott said, helps to cover the city’s losses when people move away without paying their utility bills.
“The deposit is usually not enough to cover all of the debt that customers leave,” he said.
The city’s customer service employees fill out the applications when residents come in, he said.
Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said large private utility companies have more economic resources to “cover their bases.”
“If 100 deadbeats signed up this month, Illinois American Water would have enough to cover those losses,” he said. “A city utility may not have the financial ability to be as flexible. The large utilities have bigger legal departments. They can find someone and get the money easier.”
At the same time, cities with their own water utilities can use them as economic development tools, making “pretty significant” offers to prospective companies, Lee said, an ability that Sterling does not have.
“There are advantages to both systems,” he said.
Here's what's required to get new water service:
• Amboy: Phone call to City Hall. $75 utility deposit for renters, paid with cash, check or credit card. No deposit for homeowners.
• Dixon: Visit to City Hall. Photo ID. $100 deposit for utilities, paid with cash or check, but not credit card.
• Morrison: $75 deposit for utilities. Application, which can be done online and sent in. Can pay by credit card over phone.
• Rock Falls: Visit to City Hall. Photo ID. Application. $150 deposit for utilities.
• Sterling (Illinois American Water): Phone call to Illinois American. $10 activation fee, can be paid with first bill.