On Feb. 6, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th) filed legislation designed to prevent the City of Chicago from arbitrarily raising water rates again on suburban municipalities.
Effective Jan. 1, this year, the water rate Chicago charged suburbs such as Maywood, Melrose Park and Bellwood rose by 15 percent to $3.82 per 1,000 gallons–up from $3.32 per 1,000 gallons last year. This year’s rate represents an increase of more than 50 percent over the 2012 rate of $2.51 per 1,000 gallons.
According to the City of Chicago’s website, the increasing rates are meant to cover the rate of inflation, “the on-going costs for removing the waste water and storm runoff from the streets of Chicago via our sewer system and delivering the effluent for treatment to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.”
The City notes that, despite the annual increases, “At less than a penny per gallon, Chicago’s rates will remain among the lowest in the nation for fresh, clean water.”
The bill, which was introduced last year by Rep. Welch and state Sen. Steve Landek (D-12th), would create a Water Rate Protection Board “to exercise specified powers and duties, including holding hearing and regulating water rates that a municipal water provider with a population over 500,000 may impose upon units of local government that purchase water from the municipal water provider for delivery to consumers,” according to a summary of the proposed law on the website legiscan.com.
The proposed legislation has the backing of the West Central Municipal Conference (WCMC) and that organization’s Suburban Water Task Force.
“The intent is to create an entity similar to the Citizens Utility Board, whose sole purpose would be to objectively and fairly regulate Lake Michigan water,” said Richard Pellegrino, the WCMC’s executive director in a press release last year in wake of the bill’s introduction.
Last February, Ray Hanania, a former Chicago City Council reporter (whose reportage provided the Pellegrino quote above), wrote in the Southwest News-Herald:
“The first thing Emanuel did when he became mayor was to jack up water charges, not right away to Chicago residents but to all of the residents living in the suburbs. The first increase went up 25 percent and it has increased 15 percent each year that followed. (Chicago meticulously measures water use in the suburbs, but is lax in enforcing water rate collections in Chicago, especially in the inner-city where water meters are often not read. It’s easier to harass suburban voters and to give your own a pass.)”
Hanania also compared the rate-raising to an earlier bout of what he considers to be Chicago’s bullying of its smaller suburban counterparts:
“I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being kicked around by Chicago,” he wrote. “I remember fighting with Mike Royko in the 1980s when Chicago snatched suburban funds to bail out the Chicago [T]ransit Authority.”
Hanania called the water rate issue a “matter of fairness.”
“Already, we know many Chicago residents don’t even pay water bills, or even electrical bills,” he wrote. “It’s easier to pick on the suburbs and beat up on suburban taxpayers with higher, unjustified fees.” VFP
Above photo is of the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.