Residential and commercial property owners in Brookfield socked with an 18.5-percent increase in water rates to fund a massive water main replacement effort will see their rates go up another 14 percent in July.
The increase is needed to account for a planned rise in the cost of water supplied by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission and also will be used to fund the replacement of the private lead water service lines throughout the village.
Village trustees voted unanimously on May 9 to approve the increase, which will amount to an additional $1.94 per 1,000 gallons of water, bringing the total cost to $15.78 per 1,000 gallons of water.
“It’s an unfunded mandate [from the state] but it’s also a public safety issue and requirement,” said Village President Michael Garvey during a discussion of the hike at the village board’s April 25 committee of the whole meeting. “I don’t think anyone on the board disagrees that we have to replace lead water services. … It’s just in terms of how we fund it. And tying it to the water rate … is what we need to do.”
While it may take up to two decades to replace all of the lead water service lines in Brookfield – between 5,000 and 5,500 in all – the village board was under pressure to decide how it would fund replacement of the service lines that are the responsibility of individual residential and commercial property owners.
State legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1 requires the entire lead service line – the pipe connecting the water main with an individual property – to be replaced. Part of the line is considered “public” and is the responsibility of the municipality. The other part is considered “private” and the responsibility of the property owner.
Brookfield will replace the water main along 26th Place this summer, necessitating replacement of all the lead service lines connecting to that main. As a result, Brookfield needed to decide on how it would fund replacement of both public and private segments immediately.
Replacing those lines is expensive. The average private water line replacement is estimated at $4,000, said Village Engineer Derek Treichel. Some municipalities have chosen to hold property owners liable for that cost, with many offering some type of partial reimbursement.
However, homeowners who can’t afford the cost or who don’t want to pay it can opt to waive replacing the lead water line.
“I anticipate if we make the residents responsible for paying for the private portion, we’re going to have a significant percentage that just won’t have any choice but to decline,” Treichel said.
The village can apply for up to $4 million per year in forgivable low-interest loans from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which earmarked $108 million over three years to municipalities.
However, local officials can’t predict how much of that funding any municipality would be given in any particular year, making it difficult to fairly distribute those funds to residents to fund private lead service line replacement.
“We’re fairly certain we can get a significant amount of grant money,” Treichel said. “We just don’t know how to distribute that, to get money to the residents to lessen their total burden unless the village says we’re going to go ahead and make that private portion of the lead service replacement ours.”
The village board indicated it would accept Treichel’s recommendation to have the village apply for a $5 million low-interest loan from the IEPA to be used for water main replacement, which he hoped the village would have in hand by 2023.
For that amount of money, Brookfield could replace 15,000 feet of water main along with 360 private lead service lines in 2024. The cost to replace the private portion of those water service lines is estimated at $1.44 million.
The new water rate that will go into effect in July will generate the amount of money needed to pay for the cost of that private service line replacement, about $840,000 annually.
Moving forward, Treichel said, the strategy would be for the village to apply for the low-interest IEPA loans and adjust the water rate as needed depending on the amount of loan funding Brookfield receives.