Web Extra!

Increases to water rates in the city of Chicago will be trickling into Forest Park and could leave customers feeling hosed.

Beginning Jan. 1 Chicago will raise the price charged to pump water from Lake Michigan to outlying areas a staggering 44 percent over the next three years. The first of those increases will take effect Jan. 1 when the city’s delivery charge to Forest Park is bumped by 15 percent. In 2009 another 15-percent spike will take hold, and in 2010 an additional 14 percent increase will kick in.

Though village officials say it is not yet clear exactly how those increases will translate to consumers’ water bills, it is all but assured that local rates will be going up.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to absorb,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said.

He cautioned residents not to assume they will see the same dramatic spikes in their utility bills, but said he expects the village council will have to pass along some of the new costs to residents. Local water rates have already been set by the council through the 2012, but an annual review of those rates is mandatory. Given the new rate structure set by Chicago’s city council in November, Calderone suspected the village will have to make an adjustment to its rates sometime in the first six months of 2008.

Depending on which category a local water customer falls into, they are charged a different rate for every 100 cubic feet of water that’s delivered. Light industry and commercial customers pay $4.19 per unit while senior citizens pay only $1.96.

The biggest consumers in Forest Park, heavy industry and commercial users, are charged $41.91 for every 1,000 cubic feet of water. The mayor said he favors doling out any additional costs in a similar fashion, with businesses picking up a larger share of the increase.

“For me personally, I’ve always been an advocate that businesses can pass on their costs,” Calderone said. “There is an outlet for them to pass on those costs. Homeowners don’t have that outlet.”

The most recent water bills were mailed Nov. 30, according to the village, and are sent out every other month. Also included on the bill are charges for hauling yard waste, garbage and recycling.

No changes have been made yet to local water rates and these latest bills do not reflect any increases.

Finance Director Judy Kovacs said staff members have not yet recommended how best to offset these costs, but those discussions will be taking place soon. She agreed that some portion of the city’s new rates will be passed through to local users.

“I think it will have to be, because the water fund doesn’t really have a lot of play to it,” Kovacs said.

Forest Park and other suburban communities learned of the rate hike through a form letter mailed by the city in mid November. John Spatz Jr., the commissioner of the Department of Water Management in Chicago, stated in the letter that the increases are necessary to fund improvements to the city’s infrastructure, in addition to rising energy, labor and maintenance costs.

Forest Park receives its water from Chicago via a system of pipes and pumps. Two pumping stations, one on Jackson Avenue and one on Hannah Avenue, distribute the water within the village. The pumping station on Hannah Avenue also sends water to Brookfield and North Riverside as part of an agreement with the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission. In a Nov. 15 letter to that group, Forest Park gave notice of a rate increase from $1.33 per 1,000 gallons to $1.53. Taking into account a rental fee for the use of the village’s water lines, the BNRWC will pay a rate of $1.75 beginning Jan. 1.

Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, said she was unaware of the potential rate hikes and said she has not heard from any business owners on the subject. There may be little that businesses can do to sway the village from shifting the burden onto them, Kokenes said, but she expects entrepreneurs will be interested to see how the situation unfolds.

“It’s good to know that, because if there’s nothing we can actually do, we can at least keep our members informed of the changes,” Kokenes said. “This is definitely something I think the chamber will definitely learn about through the village.”