Riverside has joined a long list of suburbs that are complaining about Chicago’s plan to increase water rates by 70 percent over the next four years.
On Dec. 5 the Riverside Village Board unanimously adopted a resolution declaring its opposition to any water rate increase by the city of Chicago that is not reasonably related to the cost of providing water. The resolution asked for a specific accounting of how the city of Chicago will spend the increased revenue it gets from the suburbs.
Two days later Riverside’s village president, Michael Gorman, sent a letter to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel requesting that Emanuel meet with the West Central Municipal Conference, a group of suburban village officials, to discuss the new water rates that are scheduled to go into effect on Jan 1.
The letter also asked that the city of Chicago “provide a clear and specific accounting with respect to the planned water rate increase.” Gorman also sent along a copy of the resolution passed by the Riverside Village Board.
“All we’re asking is where is our money going to go,” said Riverside Trustee Ben Sells, the sponsor of the resolution. “We cannot be complacent and accept vague assurances from the city that our water fees will be used appropriately.”
Sells said a recent story in the Chicago Reader newspaper indicated that about a quarter of the revenue that Chicago will get from its water rates next year will go for purposes other than maintaining the water system.
“It is one thing for suburban users to help pay for the cost of the system used to provide our water,” Sells said. “It is quite another thing for us to be expected to underwrite the city of Chicago’s broader revenue problems. The latter is both wrong and illegal.”
Chicago’s water rates are scheduled to increase 25 percent on Jan. 1, 2012 and increase an additional 15 percent each of the next three years.
However, that doesn’t mean individual water bills are going up that much, because the increase only applies to the water commodity part of the bill.
Riverside Village Manager Peter Scalera estimates that the typical homeowner in Riverside will pay about $48 more for water in 2012, or about $8 every two months.
Gorman proposed that Sells’ original resolution be amended to include the West Central Municipal Conference, which represents nearly 50 local governments in west suburban Chicago. The WCMC has been trying to get a meeting with Emmanuel to discuss the water rate increases.
“This resolution, I support it, but it will have no impact,” Gorman said. “We have to act collectively.”
Sells then agreed to amend the resolution to include the references to the West Central Municipal Conference.
Trustee Lonnie Sacchi voted for the resolution and said that he hoped the addition of the West Central Municipal Conference would give the resolution a bit more clout.
“Mayor Emmanuel cares very little about a resolution the village of Riverside passes, but maybe 60 suburban communities saying, ‘Don’t balance your budget on the back of the suburbs’ might have some impact,” Sacchi said.
Tom Powers, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management, said the city welcomes dialogue with its suburban customers and said the group scheduled a meeting for today, Dec. 21, with the WCMC to discuss their concerns.
“We value our suburban customers, and regard them as partners, but the renewal of our aging water system is an imperative, and can no longer be put off,” said Powers in an email response to questions from the Landmark.
Powers also asked suburban customers to keep in mind that “even with the scheduled increases – Chicago has among the lowest water rates of any big city in the country.”