Naperville to examine future water rates

Naperville has increased its electric rates and garbage fee, and soon the city plans to study whether its water and wastewater rates need to go up, too.

The city's water utility is anticipating a major expenditure within the next five to 10 years to fund necessary upgrades to Springbrook Water Reclamation Center.

The facility needs a new five-year operating permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to continue treating wastewater for Naperville and Warrenville. Jim Holzapfel, water utility director, said the permit is expected to come with a tighter limit on how much of the mineral phosphorus can be found in treated water.

Mayor Steve Chirico said upgrades to improve phosphorus removal are expected to cost between $10 million and $80 million, depending on how strict of a limit and how short of a deadline the state sets.

"This will have a potentially tremendous impact on our facilities at the wastewater plant," Chirico said. "An $80 million project is the mother of all unfunded mandates."

While the city awaits the phosphorus limit from the state, a study that had governed water and wastewater rates from 2011 to 2015 has expired.

Holzapfel said in a memo the city soon plans to seek proposals from consultants who could study how rates should be set to account for future renovation and maintenance needs. Water rates fund staffing, operations, capital improvements and ongoing maintenance to rehabilitate aging sewer infrastructure, a task on which the utility is spending roughly $8.8 million this year.

The next study could create a five-year financial plan, analyze the cost of providing service and set new rates to ensure the utility will have enough money.

Chirico said he might suggest water utility staff members conduct a rate study in-house to save on consultant costs.

The last rate study the city conducted cost $68,000 for a consultant to review electric rates last fall. The city council ended up choosing a higher rate increase than proposed by any of the options presented in the study.

"The electric rate study was somewhat helpful," Chirico said. "But I don't think there's any real magic to it. We have a great, competent staff. They can give us the financial data and come up with what I believe will be the right solution."

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