Forest Park residents currently pay nothing to use the sewers in town, but this may soon change.
Paying nothing to use the sewers is unusual; out of 11 nearby suburbs, including River Forest, Oak Park, Westchester and Riverside, Forest Park and Elmwood Park are the only two where residents don’t pay a dime for sewer usage.
Of nearby suburbs, Lyons has the highest rate, at $7 per 1,000 gallons. River Forest charges $5.87. River Grove has one of the lowest rates: 75 cents.
A recently published water and sewer rate study, commissioned by the village and conducted by Chris Burke Engineering, provides reasons that adding a sewer tax makes sense.
At the Jan. 13 village council meeting, Jim Amelio of Chris Burke Engineering, the firm contracted by the village for infrastructure work, presented results of the study, which was authorized by the village in May 2018. The last time a similar study was conducted was 2005.
Purposes of the study included assessing the financial condition of the village utility fund, determining upcoming expenses needed to maintain the water and sewer systems, and suggest equitable rates that would generate the revenue needed to cover these expenses.
And the price is high. Estimated capital project costs for water in Forest Park are $30,800,000, which includes $12 million to upsize all 4-inch water mains to 8 inches. Amelio mentioned that 17 years ago, bond issues helped fund the replacement of some of those water mains, but about 35 percent of the town’s mains are still 4 inches in diameter. According to Amelio, the smaller and old water mains are “a liability and probably around 100 years old.”
But $30 million is nothing compared to the $100 million needed to do a complete sewer separation across town. This would include a dedicated storm sewer, which would dump water directly into the Desplaines River, a big step in eliminating flooding in the village.
The village isn’t in a position to invest that much money in infrastructure in one fell swoop. The 2020 proposed infrastructure plan includes only a small part of recommended water and sewer improvements. Part of the south area sewer separation, from 16th Street to Roosevelt on Circle Avenue is on the list, at an estimated cost of $4.4 million, as is painting the north and south water towers for a combined total of $1.8 million, not for simple cosmetic reasons but to prevent rust and deterioration of the towers, according to Amelio.
Improvements to the Hannah pump station backup generator will cost $250,000, but that will be 100 percent covered by a grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. That grant was approved in 2014 but suspended. The village is still waiting for those funds and will only complete the improvements to the pump station when they come through.
Sewer fee considered
To fund these and future water and sewer infrastructure projects, the village is considering charging residents for sewer usage as well as raising the rates paid for water, which is currently $9.77 per 1,000 gallons.
Chris Burke Engineering recommends an increase in water rate of 5 percent with a senior freeze, and a 15 percent increase in industrial and commercial water usage. The recommended sewer rate would be $1 per 1,000 gallons. Currently, residents pay no sewer fee. This would result in an estimated total $950,000 additional revenue annually for the village to put toward infrastructure projects.
Even with these recommended increases, Forest Park would remain one of the lowest in the area for water rates. Compared with LaGrange Park, Lyons, Riverside, River Forest, Brookfield, Elmwood Park, Oak Park, Leyden Township, River Grove and Westchester, Forest Park would be the eighth highest, with a combined water and sewer rate at $11.26 for 1,000 gallons.
How would this impact residents? According to the study presented by Amelio, a 5 percent water rate increase would mean a $3 increase per month. Also charging $1 for sewer usage would result in an additional $6.50 per month on a typical residential water bill.
Historically, Forest Park’s water rates held steady from 2015 through 2017, with a 1.53 percent increase in 2018.
The village is also considering some different rate structure options, such as a tiered rate to incentivize water conservation. In such a situation, the village would set a threshold for water use, perhaps two times the average amount of gallons per month, above which a premium would be charged.
At the Jan. 13 meeting, Mayor Rory Hoskins said that with the anticipated parking box revenue, the motor fuel tax and the additional water and sewer revenue, the village will have “a significant increase in revenue to upgrade the infrastructure.”