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posted: 9/13/2012 7:37 AM

Editorial: Emanuel must try harder with suburbs

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his city administration are a little busy this week dealing with a teacher's strike, as we noted Wednesday.

So, that could be the reason the mayor -- and by extension, his staff -- are confused as to what the DuPage Water Commission expects from a detailed report on spending by the city which was requested when Chicago increased water rates for pumping Lake Michigan water to the suburbs earlier this year.

At first, DuPage Water Commission Chairman Jim Zay theorized it was just an oversight by the city. But after sending the mayor a letter complaining about what was missing, Zay realized it was more than an oversight when the city called back this week and asked the commission what it was they wanted -- despite meetings and emails clearly outlining what was expected.

Given the size of the water rate increase, excuses and/or confusion just aren't acceptable.

The mayor needs to do what he promised and provide detailed information to show revenue from the four-year water rate increase is benefiting the entire system, not just paying for capital improvements within the city. It's that simple.

"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 told Daily Herald staff writer Justin Kmitch. "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?

As Kmitch noted, the report included updates and photos of some of the $400 million worth of capital projects that are budgeted for the next two years, a graph showing more than 250 water main leaks throughout the system during the last six months and Internet links to the city's budget and 2011 financial audit of the water fund.

"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 wrote in his letter to Emanuel.

We are happy to see suburban leaders holding the city accountable. And we are disappointed that Emanuel did not follow through on his promises made in a February meeting with Zay and others.

The city hiked water rates 25 percent this year and will increase rates 15 percent in each of the next three years. That coupled with DuPage commission rates also increasing, means DuPage municipalities are paying 30 percent more this year in water rates and that will be followed by 20 percent, 18 percent and 17 percent increases in the following three years. Given those increases, it is well within the bounds of governmental cooperation to ask for the kind of detail the water commission wants from the city of Chicago.

It took some time for former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to see the wisdom of cooperating with suburban governments but when he retired, he was praised for reaching out. We've been concerned whether Emanuel will do the same. This makes us question whether he values cooperation outside the city's borders.

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