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posted: 3/29/2013 9:53 PM

Des Plaines council to consider water rate hike

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The Des Plaines City Council Monday night will consider giving final approval to a 6.9 percent increase to the city's overall water and sewer rate to pass on a 15 percent increase in the cost of purchasing water from Chicago in 2013.

Aldermen previously rejected an overall 15 percent increase to the water and sewer rate, which would not only have passed on Chicago's 15 percent water rate increase, but also covered the city's own higher operation and maintenance costs.

Chicago's rates went up by 25 percent in 2012. Des Plaines in turn raised its own water/sewer rate by roughly 21 percent. Chicago's rates will go up by another 15 percent in 2014 and again in 2015.

Des Plaines' 6.9 percent proposed water rate hike was approved on first reading by a narrow 4-3 vote at the March 18 council meeting. Aldermen have been reluctant to raise rates any higher so as not to overburden residents.

With the proposed increase, the average water bill would go up by $2.25 a month, officials said.

"It still makes us at the very low end of water rates for those communities that get water from Chicago," City Manager Mike Bartholomew said.

However, the city's water and sewer fund has been running a $2 million deficit for the past four years. Without a rate increase, the fund is expected to be $890,000 in the red by the end of 2013. The projected deficit would increase to $4.6 million in 2014 and to $9.4 million in 2015.

The earlier proposed 15 percent water rate increase from $4.075 to $4.686 per 100 cubic feet would have put the fund balance at a positive $2 million by year's end. The proposed 6.9 percent rate hike would leave the water and sewer fund with a positive $1.2 million by year's end, officials said.

City officials are trying to work out other options to keep the fund from going into deficit and finance needed work.

"We have a lot of infrastructure that we have to improve," Bartholomew said. "We have to study other sources of getting water, and find other sources of revenue to do the repairs for the water mains."

The city is in the second year of a 10-year water deal with Chicago but has authorized feasibility studies to determine the costs of getting water from other sources.

Bartholomew said though it wouldn't cost the city money to break the deal with Chicago, the staff would rather keep Chicago as an option while also purchasing water from other sources.

"It's at our discretion how much water we buy from Chicago," Bartholomew said. "It's good that we still have it, but we don't want to purchase all of our water from Chicago. We would like to purchase a majority of our water for much less."

The feasibility studies explore the possibility of purchasing Lake Michigan water through the villages of Wilmette/Glenview, through the Northwest Water Commission, which would get water from the city of Evanston, or directly from Evanston.

"Every solution requires some pipeline construction, but that final one (with Evanston) is a multiyear project. It could serve us at the lowest rate, but the infrastructure cost could be very, very high," Bartholomew said.

Officials are now trying to determine the cost of building that infrastructure and which communities may be interested in purchasing water from Evanston and splitting that cost.

Meanwhile, some aldermen have suggested using gambling revenues from Rivers Casino in Des Plaines to fund water main repairs and infrastructure improvements that would typically be funded through the water and sewer fund revenues.

Any allocation of casino revenues must be approved by the city council as part of the 2014 budget, Bartholomew said. The city is spending $13.2 million this year for capital improvements, only a small percentage of which is for water main repairs.

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