Trustees in La Grange were split 3-3 over whether to approve a 15 percent increase in the village's water rate to residents beginning May 1 at a board meeting on Monday night. The rate increase would pay for new, more accurate water meters and repairs to the Village's East Avenue pumping station.
Ultimately, Village President Liz Asperger sided with trustees Bill Holder, Mark Langan and Jeff Nowak that the rate should be approved and made the vote likely to pass at an April 23 board meeting when the 2012-2013 budget will be approved.
In closing remarks, Asperger said her vote to approve was that the majority of the rate increase was from the city of Chicago raising its rates to the village. In addition to a $65 increase from Chicago on the average La Grange household, the Village was asking residents to pay an additional $33 a year on average. The increase on the Village's end would pay for greatly needed new water meters and for repairs at the village's pumping station on East Avenue.
"For all those reason, I would support this proposal," Asperger told other board members.
No board member wanted to raise taxes, Asperger said, but added the village needed to invest in its aging infrastructure to avoid bigger problems down the line.
Trustees heard from Public Works Director Ryan Gillingham at meeting in February who said the village lost nearly 150 million gallons of water last year. The reason for the accounting loss, Gillingham said, was largely due to the village's system of aging water meters, the majority of which were purchased in the late 80s, and were no longer reading accurately. Due to a large rate increase from Chicago, it was in the Village's interest to more accurately track its water usage. The aging meters also presented another problem in that some residents were being billed for less water than they were using, do to the current meters increasingly inaccurate readings as they've aged.
Gillingham and Finance Director Lou Cipparrone laid out a plan to spend $1.25 million replacing resident's water meters. The new meters are guaranteed to work for 20 years at full efficiency. Another benefit to the Village is that flow rates will be sent via radio signal to Village Hall where usage for each house will be recorded. Public works employees will not longer need to do the readings, and will be better able to identify leaks with more regular readings.
Trustees who were opposed to the increase struggled to find a way for the meters to pay for themselves, in part thanks to more accurate readings. Trustee Mark Kuchler also voiced his concern over the Village abandoning it's traditional pay-as-you-go model for infrastructure projects in favor of taking out bonds to pay for the project. Trustee Jim Palermo likewise grilled staff on various ways a partial rollout could work, and inquired as to how easy it would be to identify the non-working meters and replace only those.
Cipparrone said village staff could not recommend a pay-as-you-go approach in this instance, and they continued their recommendation that the Village pay for the project using a bond sale. Rates are at all time lows, Cipparrone said, which would allow the village to get a very favorable rate. He hoped the village would be able to pay the bonds off early, due to an increase in revenue thanks to the more accurate meters.
The hike was not voted on at the April 2 meeting, but will likely be approved along with a 1 percent rate increase on resident's Utility Tax when the Village's 2012-2013 budget is approved on April 23. The 15 percent water rate hike this year will be followed with 7.5 percent annual increases for the next three years.