Water users in Forest Park will see steep increases to their bills over the next few years as the village tries to keep pace with rising costs in Chicago. And the most dramatic spike in local water rates is not far off after the village council voted Monday to approve a new fee schedule.

Beginning March 1, customers across the village will see no less than an 11 percent bump in their water rate. That new rate will remain through the end of 2008 when another wave of increases takes hold. At the start of 2009, turning on the faucet will cost customers at least another 10.4 percent.

All told, residents and business owners will see their rates increase by an average of 39 percent over the next four years.

But as jarring as the increases may be, it could have been worse.

Commissioners voted 3-2 on Feb. 11 to adopt the new water rates in response to even steeper increases out of Chicago. The city charges Forest Park and other outlying areas to pump drinking water from Lake Michigan. As of Jan. 1, Chicago’s rate increased 15 percent to help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements, according to a November letter sent to the village by John Spatz Jr., the commissioner of the Department of Water Management in Chicago. In 2009 another 15 percent spike will take hold and in 2010 a 14 percent increase takes effect.

“Unfortunately, we have to pass this on to our residents,” Commissioner Marty Tellalian said.

Despite appearing resolved to the necessity of the increase, Tellalian and Mayor Anthony Calderone voted against the new fee schedule at Monday’s council meeting.

According to Finance Director Judith Kovacs, Forest Park was able to narrowly avoid matching Chicago’s increases because less than half of the village’s water budget is tied directly to the purchase of water. Salaries, maintenance and other expenses make up the bulk of the village’s costs.

“Even with this increase, there is little to spare for significant improvements to the water system,” Village Administrator Mike Sturino said in a memo to the council.

Forest Park 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 began paying a rate of $1.75 as of Jan. 1.

Following the adoption of the village’s new water rates, Calderone labeled Chicago’s actions as “ridiculous” and said he couldn’t remember an increase to the city’s water rates exceeding 5 percent in the last 20 years.