The DuPage Water Commission passed a rate hike Thursday that will help dig the agency out of debt within four years, provide its operational budget and offset the forthcoming hike from the city of Chicago, which funnels water from Lake Michigan to many suburbs.
Commission Chairman Jim Zay said the agency would monitor where Chicago spends the extra revenue that comes from expected rate increases to ensure it goes toward water fund projects, as city officials have promised.
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Zay dismissed an idea, however, that has been floated of suing Chicago to block the rate hikes, which will likely take effect next year. But he did not rule it out as a possibility if the commission notices money being used in other funds.
"The commission does not believe that suing would be our first option," he said. "But if the city or department of water is not accountable, and we have evidence that funds are being misappropriated, that could be a future option."
The combined effects of the city and commission rate hikes mean DuPage municipalities will pay 30 percent more next year under the proposal. That would be followed by annual increases of 20 percent, 18 percent and 17 percent. The commission portions of those hikes are 5 percent the first two years, 3 percent in the third year and 2 percent in the fourth year.
Chicago officials have previously said they would boost rates 25 percent next year and 15 percent in each of the following three years to cover the cost of water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.
Zay said the commission following suit with its own rate hikes was necessary to ensure a stable financial future. He also said the commission intended to be more involved in discussions over future rate hikes. Right now, the city and commission set their rates every four years separately.
"We are a large stakeholder in that and we should be part of the future discussion regarding future rates," he said. "The DuPage Water Commission understands that these are hard economic times and we try to keep the increases as moderate as possible. But we still have to be able to provide you with the quantity and quality of drinking water that you have become accustomed to."
A public hearing about the rate hikes did not draw any speakers. Villa Park village President Tom Cullerton, who sits on the commission, said he was not surprised because most mayors and village presidents have been apprised of the situation.
"The hard part is, it is what it is," he said. "We can't not accept water from Chicago."
Cullerton said some of his residents had asked about possible lawsuits to block the city's rate hikes.
"We are not going to sue but we are going to keep them accountable," he said.
After accidentally spending roughly $69 million in reserve funds, legislation aimed at curtailing future mismanagement included a provision that eliminated a quarter-percent sales tax the commission collects for its operations by 2016.
But despite the expected decrease in that revenue, Zay said he feels comfortable with the direction the commission is headed.