Riverside’s village trustees will vote to hike local water rates by 20 percent on Feb. 20, while a regional governmental consortium weighs its options for responding to the city of Chicago’s latest round of water rate increases.

Frustrated by a decision by the city of Chicago in 2011 to increase the cost of water it sells to suburban customers by 70 percent over the next four years, the West Central Municipal Conference (WCMC), a regional council of governments representing more than 40 west suburban communities, including Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside, is expected to lobby state legislators to help in limit Chicago’s ability to unilaterally raise water rates.

In addition, the WCMC is talking about beginning to amass a war chest from its members in order to fund legal action against the city, if they feel the need to do so.

At a meeting of the WCMC’s Regional Water Rate Task Force on Feb. 4, members were asked to voluntarily set aside 10 cents per resident to fund a potential lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

While such a request would only collect a little more than $150,000, the WCMC is also working to gain the support, including financial support, of north and south suburban governments in their fight.

“It’s not rational to sit back and allow the city to increase [water rates] any amount they want,” said Rich Pellegrino, executive director of the WCMC. “We in the suburbs have to stand up for ourselves.”

The WCMC late in 2011 ask for a meeting with city leaders to discuss the issue. In December, the WCMC also asked the city to roll back the 45 percent increase the city wants to impose from 2013 to 2015. The city refused to budge.

Pellegrino said the time for talking with the city is over. Suburban governments will now try to effect changes either through legislation or the courts.

The WCMC supports the creation of a water rate utility commission, along the lines of the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission, which sets rules for increasing water rates.

Riverside Village President Michael Gorman told members of the village board on Feb. 6 that litigation was a last resort, but that “we need to be prepared.”

Suburban governments are reacting strongly to the latest round of increases, because they already were hit with a 44-percent increase in water rates from 2008 to 2010.

Local leaders are also riled at the new hikes, because they believe the money is going to fund city expenses unrelated to the system that delivers water to the suburbs.

From 2007 to 2015 – 86 percent hike

Riverside, which has some of the highest water rates in the suburbs, is planning on passing along a 65 percent increase in the cost of water it receives from the village of McCook, its water supplier, by 2015.

What that means is that the average bi-monthly water bill (including sewer charges, which are not changing) will increase from $136.35 to $162.66 on the low end to $181.80 to $216.88 on the high end.

That’s a total increase of between $157.86 and $210.48 per year for average water customers in Riverside. And it means that average/low water users in Riverside by 2015 can expect to be paying almost $1,000 per year for water and sewer charges. This year, Riverside residents will see a 20-percent increase in their water rates, meaning that the average user can expect their water/sewer bills to increase between $6.31 and $8.41 per bill, or between $37.86 and $50.46 for the year.

In 2007, prior to the first round of rate increase from the city, Riverside charged its customers $5.15 per 100 cubic feet of water. When the latest round of increases hit in 2015, that rate will have risen to $9.59 – an increase of 86 percent.