On Monday, trustees narrowly approved an increase in water rates that will cover significant rate increases on the village from the city of Chicago, fund the replacement of water meters in the village and repairs to the East Avenue pumping station.
Rates will increase by 15 percent this year, with the average resident expected to pay an additional $100 a year on their water bill. Rates will continue to increase by 7.5 percent for three years after. The majority of the rate increases are pass-through costs due to significant rate increases on water from Chicago.
On three separate votes involving the rate increases—one to approve the rate increase, one to approve a contract for the water meter replacement, and one to approve consultants and lawyers to issue the bond—all three votes were passed 4-3 with trustees Michael Horvath, Mark Kuchler and Jim Palermo voting no. President Liz Asperger voted to break the tie in each case.
"This is a good project. This is a thoughtful project,” Asperger said of her support for the increases.
Trustees who opposed the measures did so largely because of a disagreement over how to pay for the replacement water meters. Kuchler, Horvath and Palermo all opposed using revenue bonds to pay for the meters, preferring to stay with the village's traditional pay-as-you-go system for infrastructure projects. Horvath argued that increased revenues from new, more accurate meters would pay for themselves.
Trustee Bill Holder argued that the meters were needed now and without a bond, they village didn’t have the money to buy them. He added that with all-time low rates, paying for the project with revenue bonds was the responsible thing to do and that the village had lain plans to pay the bonds off early.
"I think these things can pay for themselves, but first you need the money to go pay for them," Holder said. "Can we pay the bond back early? Yes we can. We need to be able to afford the meters and installation."
Trustees who voted in favor of the increase, as well as the village president, said new meters were needed to fairly bill residents for their water use—something that is not happening currently.
Why New Meters?
At a board meeting on Feb. 27, Public Works Director Ryan Gillingham told board members that the village's aging water meters were overdue for replacement. With an average lifespan of 20 years, 56 percent of the meters no longer met accuracy standards, Gillingham said. The last time the majority of meters were replaced in the village was in the late '80s. Over time, the mechanical parts that calculate water usage are worn down and become less accurate. Because some meters are less accurate than others, some residents are paying less than they should.
The new meters the village will purchase have no mechanical parts to wear down, and have a lifespan of 20 years. The new meters will also communicate with the village via radio signal, which will eliminate the need for public works staff to conduct meter readings. They will also alert the village if they stop working and have the ability to provide residents with more accurate and timely information about their water usage.
Vote for Bond Issue
The Village Board is expected to vote on the $1.4 million revenue bond at their next meeting on May 8 to pay for the meters. If the board approves the bond issuance, the contractor, HD Supply Waterworks, will have one year to install the new meters in the village.
Gillingham said in an interview with Patch today that he couldn't speculate on when the project would begin before the board’s approval of the bond issue. The process will begin with HD Supply Waterworks installing a fixed base system with an antenna to record resident's water usage via radio signal and will then begin the process of installing the meters at resident’s homes. Although the contractor will have a year to complete the rollout, Gillingham said they have told him they expect it to be done sooner.