On Nov. 16, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved a city of Chicago budget that will increase water rates charged to Riverside and other suburbs by 70 percent over the next four years. Rates are set to increase 25 percent on Jan. 1, 2012, and an additional 15 percent each of the next three years.

It is well-settled law that the city of Chicago may not use water revenue received from suburbs for expenses not reasonably related to the cost of providing that water. According to a recent analysis by the Chicago Reader, the Chicago budget appears to violate this principle. The Reader states that “of the $823 million the city plans to collect in water and sewer fees next year, about $220 million will be set aside for other purposes.” Under the city’s plan, suburban users will pay approximately half of that cost.

It is one thing for suburbs to help pay for the system used to provide their water. It is quite another for them to be expected to underwrite the city of Chicago’s broader revenue problems.

If the Reader’s analysis is correct, the city’s water rate increase must be challenged. The West Central Municipal Conference met recently to discuss this matter and is considering an appropriate response. In my opinion, the city should provide a clear and specific accounting, before the increase is imposed, of where and how money collected from the suburbs will be spent.

It is not up to the suburbs to monitor city expenditures after the fact. If the water rate increase is reasonably related to providing our water, the city should welcome the opportunity to proactively show this to be the case.

Ben Sells
Ben Sells is a Riverside village trustee