City Council Passes Local Water Rate Hike
Alderman Dan Ensing was the lone dissenter, saying he believes the city should explore other options before increasing fees.
City of Oak Forest aldermen voted 5 to 1 Tuesday, Jan. 24 to increase residents' water fees by $1 per 1,000 gallons used—almost two weeks after officials had tabled the issue.
Ald. Richard Simon was not present at Tuesday's meeting; Ald. Charles Toland said Simon is dealing with a personal situation.
The lone dissenter against the hike—which is the result of a 25 percent increase in water supply costs enacted by the city of Chicago—was Ald. Dan Ensing (5th Ward).
"Nobody wants to see the water rates increase at this point," Ensing said after Tuesday's meeting. "Nobody wants to see anything increase."
The rates will take effect on Feb. 1. The average resident should expect to see a $20 increase per quarter. The increase will reportedly help cover the increase in supply cost as well as a $700,000 deficit in the city's Water and Sewer Fund.
Ensing said he would have rather investigated more ways to cover the costs rather than a rate increase, especially because the city passed a $15 surcharge two years ago that was supposed to address the Water and Sewer Fund deficit.
"At that time [officials] were told that surcharge would address about a $500,000 deficit," Ensing said. "Two years and two months later, the deficit has now grown to $700,000. ... We need to look at why this deficit is occurring and what we need to do with it, rather than raise fees."
During public comment, resident Joe Rossi asked why the rate increase per unit of water sold is 67 cents, when Oak Lawn—which is where the city gets its water—is passing on an increase of 50 cents.
Finance Director Colleen Julian said the increase per unit is due to the amount of water that is wasted, primarily due to a leaky and aging infrastructure.
"Although it is difficult to raise rates during hard economic times," she wrote in a memo, "it is necessary to maintain and improve the system required to deliver safe and reliable water and sewer utlities."
Treasurer Dwayne Fox said it's important to remember that the City of Chicago is increasing its own fees in an attempt to repair that municipality's infrastructure as well."I want the council to be informed," Fox said. "They're not just raising fees because they want to, they're raising them because they have to."
Ensing said he understands the issue, but still wanted officials to explore alternatives further."It's unfortunate," he said. "We have a water deficit and it needs to be balanced. Unfortunately, it needs to be balanced on the backs of the consumer."