The Forest Park Village Council continued its overhaul of the village fee structure on May 29, voting unanimously to increase water rates by 1.5 percent.
Since November, village officials have been raising fees in an effort to plug a budget deficit of more than $1 million for fiscal year 2019, which runs from May 1 to April 30, 2019. The village had a deficit of $1.6 million in fiscal 2018, which ended April 30.
The increase represents the first change to the water rate since 2015. Under the new rate, the cost for residential customers will increase to $7.31 per 100 cubic feet of water transmitted, from $7.20 previously. Commercial, multi-family, senior citizen and institutional customers will see similar increases.
Forest Park officials said the village is no longer able to absorb annual increases from the city of Chicago, which supplies water to the village.
Referring to it as a "bitter pill to swallow," Mayor Anthony Calderone said future increases from the city of Chicago will likely be passed on to residents as they occur.
"Whatever the increases are, we need to pass them along to residents due to our financial situation," he explained. "The reality is that, moving forward, we are not going to have a choice but to pass these increases along."
Calderone said that since 2016 increases from the city of Chicago are capped at the consumer price index or 5 percent, whichever is lower.
Rates per 100 cubic feet of water transmitted for commercial/industrial customers will also increase from $11.35 to $11.52; for multi-family customers from $9.06 to $9.20; for senior citizen customers from $5.57 to $5.66; and for institutional customers from $6.56 to $6.66. The rate for 1,000 cubic feet of water transmitted for industrial/commercial large meter customers will increase from $113.50 to $115.25 and for institutional large meter customers from $65.60 to $66.61.
Village administrator Tim Gillian said the increases are expected to generate an additional $86,500 in annual revenue.
Other fee increases village officials have approved since November include parking permits, parking tickets, garbage pickup and ambulance service.
The combined fee increases are expected to generate more than $500,000 annually, but village officials will not see that entire amount until each increase has been in effect for a full 12 months. The parking ticket fee increase is expected to generate an additional $250,000; the parking permit fee increase, $170,000; the ambulance service fee increase, $53,600; and the garbage pickup fee increase, $21,000.
"We're not all the way there yet but we are getting close to the bottom," Calderone said, when asked what other fees the village could increase.
Village Finance Director Leticia Olmsted and Gillian have said the village's deficit will likely decrease after this year because of increased sales tax revenue the village receives from the new HOBO store, which replaced the old Kmart store and opened in September 2017, and the recently opened Living Fresh Market, which replaced the former Ultra Foods and opened in early May.
Calderone also expects the increased sales tax revenue from HOBO and Living Fresh to have a positive effect on the village's financial picture, admitting the loss of Kmart and Ultra Foods "pierced a hole" in the budget.
"Between HOBO and Living Fresh, that should help fill the deficit," he said, later adding: "What is impossible is to get your arms around forecasting. We need three to five months to get a decent feel of what we can anticipate."
This story has been updated to reflect more current fees charged to water customers in the village of Forest Park. The original story was taken down from the website because it included an error related to the fees the village charged. The Forest Park Review regrets this error.