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posted: 9/11/2012 5:30 AM

DuPage official: Chicago report on water rate 'shaky at best'

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DuPage Water Commission Chairman Jim Zay says Chicago's first report detailing how it is spending funds from a massive water rate increase imposed on the county is woefully short on specifics.

As a result, Zay says, his confidence in the city is "shaky at best."

Prior to the four-year water rate increase imposed by Chicago in January, the commission sought assurances from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's water management department that the revenue would be used to benefit the entire water system and not just capital improvements within the city.

To make sure, the commission requested the city to create biannual reports including a comparison of budgeted water revenue versus actual revenue, a list of cash transfers from the city's water fund, and an annual Department of Water Management budget.

Zay recently received the city's first report and says he hopes what he received was just an oversight.

"What they call a report is a 15-page dog-and-pony show with some pretty pictures. But it's not at all what we asked for," Zay said. "We gave them more than a half-year to produce documents they should have already had, for their own files, and this is what they come up with?"

The report, dated Aug. 28, includes several pages of updates, with photos, of some of the $400 million of capital projects the city's water department has budgeted for the next two years, a graph outlying more than 250 water main leaks throughout the system during the last six months and Internet links leading to the city's 482-page budget and 2011 financial audit of the water fund.

Calls to the mayor's office and Chicago water department officials were not returned Monday.

Chicago's 2012 budget includes rate hikes of 25 percent this year and 15 percent in each of the following three years to cover the cost of water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.

The combined effects of the city and commission's corresponding rate hikes mean DuPage municipalities began paying 30 percent more beginning Jan. 1. 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.

Zay said city officials agreed, during a February meeting in Emanuel's office, to produce the reports sought by the suburban water customers.

"That's what is so frustrating. The water department agreed to do this," Zay said. "We didn't ask them to recreate the wheel or create documents they didn't already have. We did ask them to be transparent and forthright about where this money is going, and I'm concerned that they appear unwilling to share that."

Zay said he had not shared the report with any of the commission's 23 customers, fearing what he received may have been a mistake. Instead he sent Emanuel a response letter outlining his disappointment in the report.

"Although the report contains numerous photos, charts and other information that was not requested; it lacks the information needed to make sure that the city is being accountable," Zay wrote. "The information provided gives us no details of what has been spent to date on city water operations and projects; the reason given for the large water rate increase."

Zay said he hopes to have a response within the next week so he can share whatever updated information he receives with the commission's municipal customers.

"I can't send this report to them now because they'll all just send it back with the same complaints I have," Zay said. "Right now my confidence in the city is shaky at best, but if I don't get a response within a week or so, I'm going to begin to get leery about where our money is going."

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