Wednesday, January 17, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: The Maywood water tower. | wa9idj/Panoramio
Ever since Maywood’s water woes — from high rates to high fees — were featured in a 2-part Chicago Tribune investigative report last year, village and county officials have been plumbing the depths for solutions to the problem.
One of them could be the village tapping into a water source in Maywood that officials say runs directly underneath the Prairie Path and flows through to DuPage County, which would mean that Maywood would no longer be reliant on Melrose Park for transmitting water.
During a Jan. 16 regular meeting, the Maywood Board of Trustees voted unanimously to establish a commission of experts and community stakeholders that would explore the feasibility of the measure.
“The contract [with Melrose Park for water transmission] is up somewhere around 2020 or so,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon, who introduced the proposal. “I think it would be a great idea to put together some sort of commission to explore the possibility of Maywood being able to tap into … water traveling through our community.”
Trustee Henderson Yarbrough, who echoed Brandon’s point, added that “now is the time, because it’s going to take a lot of time and effort due to the number of communities that will be affected.”
Yarbrough recommended that the village start the process of exploring the feasibility of tapping into a different water source by consulting experts from the West Central Municipal Conference, an organization that helps foster cooperation between local governments in West Cook County and DuPage County. The WCMC maintains a public works committee.
Maywood officials touted the possibility of tapping into another water source as an alternative to paying Melrose Park around $1.3 million a year for water.
According to data released by the Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., the village pays Melrose Park a debt service cost of $630,848 each year to maintain the water infrastructure and $671,580 each year for the cost of delivering the water from the city of Chicago.
That’s on top of $3.6 million each year that Maywood pays to the city of Chicago to purchase its drinking water in the first place, according to village data. Chicago increased the cost of its water by 25 percent in 2012, 15 percent in both 2014 and 2015, and roughly 2 percent in 2017, Norfleet said.
In addition to the cost of purchasing and delivering the water, the village is also burdened by an estimated $1.7 million worth of unpaid accounts, including another $600,000 for closed accounts, he said.
Add into the mix the cost of fixing constant leaks (including four water main leaks that happened this month, Norfleet said) due to half-century-old infrastructure, unauthorized water usage by contractors and inoperable meters, among other problems, and the situation becomes seemingly insurmountable for a local municipality to resolve on its own.
That’s what Norfleet and his counterparts, including officials from Harvey and Ford Heights, concluded during a Cook County public hearing held on the matter on Jan. 9.
After the Tribune report found that residents in some of the Chicago area’s lowest-income municipalities pay nearly six times more for water than those in the wealthiest municipalities, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) called the public hearing to explore the matter.
At the hearing, according to a Jan. 9 Tribune article, village officials from some of those cash-strapped municipalities “found common ground on the need for increased state and federal aid and pledged to seek ways to find it.”
Boykin said that he hoped the hearing would catch the ears of members of Congress who represent municipalities like Maywood, adding that he intends to talk about water infrastructure issues at a meeting of the National Association of Counties in March, the Tribune reported.
“We have to figure out how to make this a front-burner issue,” he said. VFP
Read the full list of Maywood’s water-related problems compiled by Norfleet