Homeowners and businesses in Riverside and Brookfield will be paying more for water in 2015 — again — courtesy of the city of Chicago, which has raised rates to its suburban customers by more than 100 percent since 2008.
In December, the Riverside trustees voted unanimously to pass along a 4.59 percent increase in its water rate to customers in the village, after the village of McCook, which supplies water to Riverside announced it would be passing along a 12.5 percent increase to the village.
And, on Monday, the Brookfield Village Board voted unanimously to raise its water rate by 8 percent after being notified in December by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission that it was passing along a 12.82 percent increase in the cost of water it supplies to the village.
The increase is the last of four planned annual increases in the cost of water by the city of Chicago, which has not yet announced its plans for future increases, but suburban officials are expecting more of the same in the future.
Riverside, which has the highest water rate in Cook County, increased its rate from $8.93 per unit (100 cubic feet) in 2014 to $9.34 per unit in 2015. The total combined water rate, which also includes charges for the sewer system and for maintenance of the water and sewer systems, will be $10.59 per unit.
Riverside is only increasing its rate for the cost of the water itself. The village’s sewer rate has been the same since 2004, and the maintenance charge also hasn’t been raised in several years.
According to information provided by the village of Riverside, the average residential water customer (defined as a household that uses between 15 and 20 units per two-month billing cycle) will see its total annual water bill increase between $36 and $49.
Brookfield, which also breaks its water bill into several separate components — for water, administration, sewers and maintenance — increased its total rate 8 percent from $9.30 to $10.05 per unit (defined in Brookfield as 1,000 gallons. For comparison, 100 cubic feet is approximately 750 gallons).
Brookfield Village Manager Keith Sbiral said he and Finance Director Doug Cooper take into account several factors when determining how much of the water commission’s increase to pass along to local customers.
“The bottom line is we look at what we need for administrative costs in any given year and that number is very small,” Sbiral told the village board during a discussion of the increase on Jan. 12. “We believe we have less cost this year … so we can decrease the amount that the [total water rate] goes up.”
In 2014, with a similar increase passed along by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission, the village raised its water rate by 10 percent.
Sbiral said the village is also holding the 2015 increase to 8 percent, because Brookfield’s water and sewer enterprise fund has a healthy cash reserve. That money is used to pay for improvements to the water and sewer systems and for such things as the village’s flood-mitigation program and the coming pump station at Forest and Washington avenues.
“Our water fund is healthy,” Sbiral said. “We believe 8 percent will cover those costs this year.”
According to Cooper, that means a customer who is billed for the village minimum water usage of 7,500 gallons per quarter will see his annual bill increase by about $30. If a household uses double that amount per quarter, the increase would be about $60 per year.
The constant increases have frustrated both customers and local officials, but because the city of Chicago controls the commodity, there’s not much suburban officials have been able to do.
“Is there nothing we can do to get our voice heard in Chicago, where it all begins?” asked Trustee Michael Foley, during a discussion of the rate increase on Dec. 18, 2014. “This is just going to keep going on and on and on.”
Many suburban communities in 2013, including Riverside and Brookfield, formally protested the city’s rate increases individually and through the West Central Municipal Conference, a consortium representing more than 40 suburban communities.
“The WCMC has had repeated meetings with the city of Chicago about this point,” said Riverside President Ben Sells. “But they have the water. That’s what it comes down to.”