Brookfield homeowners and business owners can expect to see higher water bills in 2013, thanks again to another increase in water rates by the city of Chicago for its suburban customers. On Jan. 28, Brookfield trustees approved a 10.2-percent increase in the rate the village charges all customers.

The increase is in response to a 15-percent increase in the cost of water that the city of Chicago passed along to the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission on Jan. 1. The commission supplies water to Brookfield, North Riverside and Brookfield Zoo.

As a result, the minimum water bill in Brookfield will rise from $229.60 per year to $253.08, an increase of $23.48. Of course, that amount reflects the minimum bill charged to residential properties in Brookfield, whose water rate hike is simply the latest in a string of increases going back to 2008, when Chicago slapped suburbs with a 44-percent increase over a three-year period. In 2010, Brookfield’s village board passed a permanent 5-percent tax on the cost of all water it delivers to local customers.

Then in 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced water rates were going up again. Beginning in 2012, Chicago began a four-year campaign to hike water rates by 70 percent.

While the bottom-line charge on water bills won’t be going up by that amount, since the increase is for the cost of water only (it doesn’t include sewer charges), administrative fees and charges to fund water system improvements are also built into every water bill.

“We’re still passing through the city’s increase,” said Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral. “We’re not losing money on it.”

The increase is a pass-through to customers, Sbiral said. Because of the increase in the cost of water, customers will also see their sewer charges increase slightly as well. The village charges water customers for sewer service based on a percentage of the cost of water used by a customer. While each customer pays the same percentage of their water costs for sewer service, the more water you use, the more you’ll pay in sewer charges.

A percentage of the water rate is also set aside for future water system improvements, which can be anything from replacing or repairing water and sewer mains to refurbishing the Brookfield water tower. The latter project is budgeted to happen in 2013 at a cost of around $300,000.

Trustees agreed it was appropriate to pass through the cost of water to customers who use it. If the village absorbed the increase, the additional cost would have to come out of the $4 million surplus the village has built up in recent years.

However, trustees also expressed concern about the impact of the annual increases on homeowners.

“What the board has to tried to do is balance for taxpayers what they can pay, especially here in Brookfield, versus the future projects of the village,” said Trustee Ryan Evans during a board discussion of the issue on Jan. 14. “We know where our residents stand and what they can absorb at this point. I think we are at that balancing point right now.”

Village President Michael Garvey said he would like the village to balance the impact of the increases with information on how homeowners can reduce water usage to save money.

“I think now more than ever … we need to try and provide additional service or education to the residents … on water conservation or how people can use less water,” said Garvey on Jan. 14. “I’ve turned into my father in terms of how often the dishwasher’s run and how many cups we use and how long showers are and things like this.

“I’d like some official, formal program on educating people on water conservation to come forward, so we can tell people we’re not just increasing your water bill, but we’re giving you ideas on how you can save on your water bill going forward.”

Sbiral said water customers will be receiving an insert in their next bill addressing issues of water conservation. Included in that insert, for example, may be information on taking part in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s rain barrel program.

North Riverside water rates level, for now

Water customers in North Riverside may see an increase in their water charges, too, in the coming months. For now, however, the village board has decided to hold off on any increases until the board begins its discussions on the 2013-14 operating budget.

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