The Des Plaines city council voted 5-4 this week to approve a 6.9 percent water and sewer rate hike for 2013, essentially passing along Chicago's 15 percent water rate increase to residents and businesses.
It is the second significant hike in two years to help defray the costs of Chicago raising its fees to deliver Lake Michigan water to the city. Des Plaines raised its water/sewer fees about 21 percent in 2012, following Chicago's 25 percent water rate hike.
The ordinance, approved on first reading Monday, was the first requiring a tiebreaker vote by new Mayor Matt Bogusz. Aldermen Patti Haugeberg (1st Ward), Dick Sayad (4th), Jim Brookman (5th), and Mark Walsten (6th) voted against the increase, while aldermen John Robinson (2nd), Denise Rodd (3rd), Joanna Sojka (7th) and Mike Charewicz (8th) voted for it.
With the 6.9 percent increase this year, the average water bill would go up by $2.25 a month, City Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski said.
"This is just the product cost. There is no increase to the operation and maintenance (cost), and there is no increase for the sewer rates, as well," she said.
The increase is not retroactive. It will go into effect once the ordinance is adopted after second reading at the June 3 city council meeting.
The ordinance also calls for Des Plaines' water/sewer rate to automatically increase in subsequent years to pass on Chicago's rate increases for 2014 and 2015 -- another 15 percent in each of the two years.
"This would not automatically happen on operation and maintenance or sewer rates," Wisniewski said. If the city were to find an alternative water source, the rates may go down, she added.
Sayad opposed the automatic increases for future years.
"I'd rather have it come in front of this council and let us discuss it and see what we can do to help the residents," he said.
Sayad and other aldermen have suggested using other revenue sources, such as gambling revenues from Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, to pay for water main repairs and infrastructure improvements that would typically be funded through the water and sewer fund revenues.
"This city is not broke," Sayad said. "We've got $18 million in our reserve fund. We have $12.8 million in our casino fund. We can't go out and find some money to help these residents to alleviate this water increase?"
Wisniewski said the increase is necessary to curb a growing deficit in the city's water and sewer fund.
The fund has been running a $2 million deficit for the past four years. Without a rate increase, it was expected to be $890,000 in the red by the end of 2013. The projected deficit would have increased to $4.6 million in 2014 and to $9.4 million in 2015.
With the 6.9 percent rate hike, the water and sewer fund should have a roughly $1.2 million surplus by year's end, according to officials.
"It doesn't stop us from trying to be more efficient in delivering that water," Charewicz said.
Des Plaines has been researching the costs of getting Lake Michigan water through the villages of Wilmette/Glenview, through the city of Evanston or through the Northwest Water Commission, which would get water from Evanston. Each of those options would require some pipeline construction.