Water, a perennial issue in Prospect Heights, is bubbling to the surface again as city leaders may hire a former suburban village administrator and fire chief to help broker a deal to bring Lake Michigan water to the city.
The city council this month expressed interest in hiring Bill Balling, the retired village administrator of Buffalo Grove and onetime interim fire chief in Elk Grove Village, to work with the Northwest Water Commission, a consortium that brings Lake Michigan water to Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.
Mayor Nick Helmer invited Balling to speak at a city council meeting this month, and the aldermen say they would be interested in seeing a formal proposal to hire him as a consultant.
Although Helmer believes he has a good relationship with leaders of all the communities surrounding Prospect Heights, he said Balling would be helpful because working with the commission is a "monumental task" and the consultant would know "what to ask for and how to ask for it."
Balling, who once served as chairman of the water commission, said the agency turned down Prospect Heights in the past, but there is a changing philosophy now.
Parts of Prospect Heights receive Lake Michigan water from two sources, but Helmer said 40 percent of the residences in the city -- single-family homes on at least half-acre lots -- have individual wells and no infrastructure to connect to a central water system. According to a map provided by the city, almost all the single-family homes in the community of about 17,000 people are on private wells.
Helmer said he wants lake water for the part of the community currently on wells because, while some are excellent, others produce water with too much iron. He said he uses his home's well for everything except drinking.
The Northwest Water Commission has a contract with Evanston until 2035 for up to 55 million gallons a day, said John DuRocher, the agency's executive director. The average daily use is 25 million gallons, but peak times require more.
DuRocher said the commission is interested in communities that will be "customers," not new members. He also questions whether Prospect Heights would be a suitable client of the commission, saying the agency is more interested in working with municipalities that already have the infrastructure in place to take on Lake Michigan water.
The commission, he added, has heard from a few other communities interest in becoming customers.
Helmer suggested the commission might be interested in contributing to Prospect Heights' infrastructure costs because that would help sell water. The water infrastructure would cost about $43 million, he said.
"Why would we?" responded DuRocher. "Our infrastructure was built with public money from our four member municipalities. We are not in a position to pay for expenses in other communities."
Helmer called DuRocher's comment "premature."
"The cost of the infrastructure is at this point overwhelming," Helmer added. "Thirty-eight percent of our residents are senior citizens. How are they to pick up the tab?"
Grant assistance or federal funds could also help fund the costs, Helmer said. Balling might know where some of these sources could be, he said.