Tribune Explores Maywood’s, Minority Suburb’s Sky-high Water Rates

Thursday, October 26, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews 

A two-part Chicago Tribune investigative piece, published online Oct. 25, reports that majority-minority suburbs with relatively high concentrations of low-income residents, pay more for water service (and for fees related to maintenance and reconnections) than some of the wealthiest (and whitest) suburbs in the country.

The lengthy report singles out black suburbs like Ford Heights, Harvey and Maywood as places with some of the highest water rates and reconnection fees in the region.

Tribune water piece.png

A screenshot of a Chicago Tribune graphic charting the comparison between average water rates and median household income. 

“The latest census figures show that Maywood has about 7,400 households,” the Tribune reports. “Last year, the village issued 1,436 water disconnection notices on residential and commercial accounts, records show, though it’s unclear how many of the notices led to water service being discontinued.”

Residents in Maywood have to pay $300 in order for their service to resume if their water has been disconnected after a 30-day nonpayment period. In Calumet Park it’s $200. In Glenwood and Ford Heights it’s $100.

According to the report, a range of explanations have been presented for the high water rates in lower-income, majority-minority communities, including “cracked pipes and leaky hydrants” that cause large amounts of water to be lost and the “exorbitant replacement costs of that infrastructure.”

For instance, the Tribune found that of “the 946 million gallons that Maywood bought from Melrose Park in 2016, 367 million gallons, or 38.7 percent, never made it to taps, costing residents and businesses in this cash-strapped village nearly $1.7 million. Maywood residents pay one of the region’s highest water rates.”

(The Tribune explained that its analysis of water lost through leaky pipes doesn’t take into account so-called “apparent loss,” which includes “meter or accounting errors and water theft”).

Towns with mostly black residents (which pay among the highest water rates in the region) lost, on average, 18 percent of water, compared to the overall regional rate of 10 percent.

There are also the costs related to fraud and mismanagement. The Tribune cites a case of mismanagement investigated in 2015 by the Cook County sheriff’s office involving Maywood employees in the finance department who fraudulently credited the accounts of village property owners.

Several employees were fired after the scheme, including one public works employee who appealed his firing and sued the village, claiming wrongful termination. After an arbitrator sided with him, the employee was eventually awarded over $100,000. He has since been reinstated.

The Tribune explains that the abuses in places like Maywood are undergirded by “a system that lacks accountability.”

According to state law, elected officials in municipalities like Maywood can set their own water rates by adopting ordinances and there’s no guarantee that they’ll “keep water revenue in water accounts.”

“In fact, it’s legal for towns to divert water revenue to other purposes, provided local officials deem the water system is being managed properly,” the Tribune reports.

Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., who the Tribune interviewed, said he thought the village’s water loss was as high as 50 percent. He attributed the loss to a “significant number of meters are malfunctioning” and “many leaking hydrants and broken water mains,” according to the Tribune.

Norfleet said that the village “is making progress on lowering the water loss by repairing and replacing water meters and hydrants, installing a better water pump and control system at the village’s water plant and going after delinquent customers.”

Counting your losses 

For its report, the Tribune created an interactive database where readers can look up the average monthly water bill for their town for every 5,000 gallons in 2017, the percentage of water loss their town reported losing in 2016 because of leaky pipes or water main breaks, and the age of the town’s pipes in 2014.

Bellwood 

  • Monthly water bill for 5,000 gal. in 2017: $55.85 (a 32% increase since 2013)
  • % water loss in 2016: 26.16 
  • Age of pipes: 53 percent of the village’s 43 miles of pipes are over 60 years old

Broadview

  • Monthly water bill for 5,000 gal. in 2017: $44.09 (a 23% increase since 2013)
  • % water loss in 2016: N/A (Broadview didn’t submit a 2016 water audit form and isn’t in state compliance, according to the Tribune).
  • Age of pipes: Over 60 percent of the village’s 34 miles of pipes are between 21 and 40 years old.

Maywood

  • Monthly water bill for 5,000 gal. in 2017: $72.61 (an 11% increase since 2013)
  • % water loss in 2016: 38.73
  • Age of pipes: 60 percent of the village’s 62 miles of pipes are over 60 years old.

Melrose Park 

  • Monthly water bill for 5,000 gal. in 2017: $26.60 (a 15% increase since 2013)
  • % water loss in 2016: 22.18
  • Age of pipes: 42 percent of the village’s 77 miles of pipes are under 20 years old. And 27 percent are over 60 years old. 

Note: Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood water passes from Lake Michigan to Chicago through Melrose Park and experiences an additional markup. Melrose Park gets its water directly from Chicago. 

Please read the full Chicago Tribune investigative report here. And support the Tribune through purchasing a digital subscription (4 weeks for 99 cents) here.  

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Tribune Explores Maywood’s, Minority Suburb’s Sky-high Water Rates”

  1. About dame time, l’ve been crying for years about the high cost of water in our village. My mother lives alone and was in the hospital & a nursing home rehab center for over eight months & still got a regular high water bill. The water department answer was “ we have to charge our coustomers something. I ask them if I go to a food store and change my mind once I got there are they still leagally able to charge me anything. ( hell no ) and neither should they !

    1. CHEVEY: Hey Chevey! Go to the article that Amy Luke, member of the Maywood Fine Arts typed up her opinion about the water bill crisis in Maywood. She asked questions about the residents of Maywood doing to solve and where is the outrage. Please check out the article titled “Letters: High on Costs, Low on Justice” and post a comment!

  2. OK. If 38.7% of the water we are buying from wherever is lost due to leakage from 60+ year old pipes, then I want 38.7% off my water bill – why the hell should I pay for leaking water lost because the village can’t keep its infrastructure up to date? My household uses very little water because it is a very small household. Yet, my water bills have been in the $100 range for a while. Let’s take $100 minus 38.7% and my water bill will be $62.30.That is an extravagant amount for water. I’m convinced that the village public works department has Jello for brains and do not have the remote meter reading device for my type of meter and just pull a number out of the air and charge me accordingly. What is happening now is just as criminal as the previous issue with the transfer of money from water bill payments to bills of friends and relatives. FRAUD! I want to know WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE about this and charging people for water when they never use it (Chevey). Oh, wait! OUTRAGE appears to be confined to matter of perceived discrimination or ill-treatment, the park district’s building on 9th Ave., and what about the fact we have one of the highest real estate taxes compare to the valuation of our homes in the nation! I’m thinking that maybe what we, who are outraged, can do, is sue the village. I’m ready. Are YOU?

    1. THE MAYWOOD WATCHER: Hey Maywood Watcher! Go to the article that Amy Luke, member of the Maywood Fine Arts typed up her opinion about the water bill crisis in Maywood. She asked questions about the residents of Maywood doing to solve and where is the outrage. Please check out the article titled “Letters: High on Costs, Low on Justice” and post a comment!

  3. I paid $300 plus last month, and I don’t water my lawn. We try our best to be eco friendly, but Maywood is being too friendly with my pocket. I believe that they don’t check the meters, they just estimate according to the neighbors. There is no transparency in this village. The people at the water desk seem to know as much as I do. That needed to change. We also have to break free from the grip of Melrose, why can’t we get our own water?? We pay Chicago and Melrose, why?? We have no economy in the town and what little money the residents earn goes on bills and taxes. This is quick sand!!! Time to restructure. Keep our heads above water and peddle In the right direction. Much love to all.

    1. SISCO KID: Hey Sisco Kid! Go to the article that Amy Luke, member of the Maywood Fine Arts typed up her opinion about the water bill crisis in Maywood. She asked questions about the residents of Maywood doing to solve and where is the outrage. Please check out the article titled “Letters: High on Costs, Low on Justice” and post a comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s