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updated: 6/5/2013 6:12 PM

Des Plaines hikes water rates for 2013-2015

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The Des Plaines city council has put in motion a 6.9-percent water and sewer rate hike, in effect passing along Chicago's 15-percent water rate increase to residents and businesses.

The vote was 4-4 with Mayor Matt Bogusz breaking the tie.

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The increase will raise the average household user's water bill by $2.25 a month, effectively immediately. The increase is not retroactive.

The increase will help defray the cost of purchasing Lake Michigan water from Chicago. The ordinance approved Monday does not include any increase to the operation and maintenance cost or sewer rate, officials said.

However, the ordinance does say Des Plaines' water and sewer rate will automatically increase in subsequent years to cover Chicago's rate increases for 2014 and 2015 -- another 15 percent in each of the two years.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman reiterated his objection to the automatic rate increases in subsequent years.

"One of the big problems is that future increases of Chicago water rates will be enacted automatically without the council's review," he said.

Resident Brian Burkross also objected to future Chicago rate increases being automatically passed on to residents.

"I just would like to see my elected leaders have the right to decide how our money is spent," he said.

Des Plaines raised its water/sewer fees about 21 percent in 2012, following Chicago's 25 percent water rate hike.

City Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski said if the city finds an alternate supply of water at a cheaper cost and purchases less from Chicago, it could decrease water bills.

Eighth Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz said the city has been absorbing the cost of Chicago's 2013 water rate increase since January.

"The city is going to have to make up that revenue by other means," he said.

The city's water and sewer fund also has been running a roughly $2 million deficit for the past four years. By the end of 2012, the fund had $1.8 million leftover. Without the rate increase, it was projected to have a negative $900,000 fund balance by year's end, Wisniewski said.

The projected deficit would have increased to $4.6 million in 2014 and to $9.4 million in 2015.

Brookman and Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad 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.

"We got $28 million in various funds that we can tap into," Sayad said. "We are not poor. We could put money in there, if we want to. I'm talking about 2013, this year only. Our people need relief. Let's do something for them."

The city has $23 million in its general fund reserve.

Wisniewski said any money transfers into the water and sewer fund can be used only for capital improvements because it is an enterprise fund.

"It is run like a private business of any type," she said. "All operating type expenses are to be paid for from the revenues within the fund."

Using outside revenues for water and sewer fund operating expenses could affect the city's bond rating, she added.

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