Property owners might soon see an additional sewer charge on their water bills.

The Forest Park Village Council voted unanimously, June 11, to pay the village’s engineering firm to undertake a water and sewer rate study that could lead to the village instituting a sewer fee. Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd. will be paid $24,500 for the study, which will compare water and sewer rates and utility system costs of at least five similar nearby municipalities and recommend at least three rate alternatives. 

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, 2018 to April 30, 2019. The village had a deficit of $1.6 million in fiscal 2018, which ended April 30.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said Forest Park has never charged property owners a separate fee for sewer use.

“This is something we should do periodically to make sure our water rate is OK and to get an idea of what our costs are,” he said of the study, adding the last time anything similar was undertaken was “a long time ago.”

Gillian noted the possibility of instituting a sewer fee was raised during budget discussions and village council members had requested the study.

“In order to consider adding the fee, you’ve got to take the first step,” Gillian added. 

Mayor Anthony Calderone cautioned that a sewer fee is not a foregone conclusion.

“We simply have not decided,” he said. “We need to do some of these actions as part of our due diligence. We need to gather information to make sound decisions.”

Village officials were unable to identify nearby municipalities that charge a separate sewer fee, noting that is the purpose of the study. Larger municipalities including Evanston and Naperville already charge such a fee.

Calderone said the study will likely involve surveying other members of the West Central Municipal Conference, indicating conference members survey each other regarding similar matters on a regular basis.

The conference, founded in 1980, is a regional council of governments serving 40 municipalities in west suburban Cook County.

According to the contract, Burke Engineering will recommend “fair and equitable” water and sewer rate structures that are based on a cost-of-service analysis and designed to fund estimated operating and capital expenditures over the next five years while maintaining adequate cash balances.

The firm will provide at least three recommended rate alternatives that are based on standard rate practices for current and future costs of providing water and sewer services in accordance with established and anticipated standards and regulations and which equitably distribute costs to residential, commercial and industrial customers.

The first task will be a kickoff meeting of Burke Engineering representatives with village staff members and officials to discuss goals and objectives. Gillian said the day and date of that meeting has yet to be determined.

At the kickoff meeting, Burke Engineering will present the methodology to be used in performing the evaluations and propose a schedule for completing the study.

Other tasks include reviewing historic revenues and expenses; establishing the basis for projected revenues and expenses; preparing a rate model and establishing a baseline rate design; and evaluating alternative rate designs.

Gillian said he expects Burke Engineering to provide results of the study “in a month or so.”

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