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Utility companies owe county $1 mil.

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

If you don't pay your natural gas or cable bills, chances are those services will be cut off rather promptly.
But for more than a decade, a number of utility companies have failed to pay Cook County government for the right to run lines and piping across forest preserve land, county officials claimed Wednesday.
In fact, those utilities may collectively owe Cook County taxpayers more than $1 million -- a disclosure that stunned the elected officials that run county government. They learned about the tab while preparing to sign what they thought were routine contract extensions with utility companies.
'Chop the damn pipe off'
"If you miss a payment on your Comcast bill, do they come to you to negotiate?" Commissioner Roberto Maldonado asked after a board meeting. "No, they turn it off. That's what we should do to them until they pay."
"Who was asleep at the switch?" asked Commissioner Liz Gorman.
That wasn't determined, but county staffers were the ones who informed commissioners.
Commissioners delayed extending any agreements, asking instead for penalties to be slapped on those ignoring their bills, while also adding "teeth" to any new agreements.
Commissioner Carl Hansen recommended the district "go out there with an ax and chop the damn pipe off" if they don't pay up.
The most delinquent companies are Badger/West Shore Gas, at $575,000, and Comcast, at $375,000, county officials said.
Also cited as being delinquent were North Shore Gas and Peoples Gas, companies that have been raising their residential rates.
Representatives from many of those companies were in the audience as commissioners ripped them, but they declined to speak.

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