Joliet water rates get 7% hike

Brock A. Stein | 10/6/2016, midnight
To pay for upgrades to its water and sewer system, the city council this week voted to increase rates 7% ...

The Joliet City Council this week approved a 3-year water and sewer rate hike that will help the city pay for $100 million in EPA-mandated upgrades to its system.

The rate increases were approved by the majority of the board with councilman Larry Hug voting against the measure citing the need for more evidence that the hikes are needed.

The council approved a series of three 7% rate hikes after rejecting a plan outlined in September that recommended increases of 12.5% this year followed by 10.5% and 4% increases in 2017 and 2018.

In addition to the $100 million upgrades to the city’s sewer system, the increases will also allow for 1-2% contributions to Joliet’s water and sewer capital fund that will help pay for upgrades and equipment replacement.

City manager Jim Hock said that the rate hikes will allow the city to “maintain adequate fiscal reserves” in the water and sewer fund and allow for a more proactive approach to maintaining the water system.

“We can’t continue operating in a crisis mode,” said Hock who said that the many years of delaying rate hikes lead to the current situation.

“You’ve inherited the fact that we haven’t had these increases for many years,” Hock told the council on Monday.

Under the scaled back plan of 7% increases, Hock did say that it will mean larger rate increases of around 9% in in years 4, 5, and 6. Under the previous plan, rate increases would have dropped from 5%-2% in the final three years of the 10-year plan.

Hock said that the city will re-evaluate the 10-year schedule of rate hikes after the first three years to determine if the proposed rate hikes are still warranted. A leak study of the water system that is currently being conducted could net some savings he said.

“If there’s some tremendous revenue as a result of that…we’ll come back to you and say ‘we don’t need 7% in year 2’,” Hock told the council.

Under the current plan senior discounts will continue said Hock.

Average residential bills will increase $3.78 to $57.78 and average senior bills will increase $2.52 to $38.52.

Council member Mike Turk said that the rate increase will only impact residents’ water and sewer rates on their municipal utility bills which also include charges for garbage pickup.

Council woman Jan Quillman considered asking to table the motion for another two weeks to look at a plan that would only increase rates by 5.25% but that increase wouldn’t be enough said Hock.

“It can’t be less than 7% otherwise the money is not there,” said Hock.

With the increases in place, Mayor O’Dekirk said that the city council will have to turn its attention to other water matters, in particular some projections that predict that the aquifer the city draws from will run dry in 20 years.

“We need to get active on the plan for what we’re going to do about the water in Joliet,” said the Mayor.