Elmhurst Finance, Administration and Council Affairs Committee is ready to fight Chicago City Hall on water rate increases. The city would rather not go it alone, however, and is looking for a local municipal group to lead the charge. On the sink-and-tap level, this means residents should brace for a water rate increase in January but watch for more action from aldermen.
The committee learned Monday that the DuPage Water Commission was poised to approve increases this week after Chicago announced its own water rate increases.
Proposed increases from the DuPage commission are 30 percent in 2012, 20 percent in 2013, 18 percent in 2014 and 17 percent in 2015. Chicago increases range from 15 to 25 percent. City staff told the committee that the DuPage commission can essentially charge whatever they feel they need to charge to deal with their costs.
“We're being boxed in again. ... We need to make it clear to everybody that we need help fighting Chicago,” said 7th Ward Alderman Mark Mulliner.
Aldermen and staff discussed the status of water-increase rage at local government associations; everyone agreed that it would be best to present a united front to the city. DuPage Mayors and Managers Association has not yet taken a position on the issue, said Elmhurst City Manager Jim Grabowski, but Cook County-based West Central Municipal Conference is meeting this week to discuss it.
City Attorney Donald Storino reported on Niles v. Chicago, a lawsuit filed in 1990, where the north suburb challenged water rate increases. While Chicago prevailed, Storino said, the courts did affirm that the city could not use water rate increases to pass on other costs, such as sewer system upgrades.
This precedent could play into any current action because Chicago has indicated that some of the money generated from the increases will go to fix infrastructure around the city. Elmhurst, the committee agreed, could argue that their residents should not have to pay for fixes that do not directly improve their water service.
Finance Director Marilyn Gaston confirmed that Elmhurst cannot absorb the increases expected from DuPage. The committee will prepare to implement new rates beginning in January once the DuPage Water Commission formally takes action.