A proposal to outsource a water-rate study eddied around the Administration and Public Works (APW) Committee and into City Council, where it was stopped by a procedural dam. City staff had proposed hiring Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., to update its 2009 study of the City’s water rates and fees, at a cost of about $22,000. The 2009 study had recommended three options for increasing water rates to Evanston consumers (rates for water provided to other municipalities are governed by their contracts with the City of Evanston).
At Administration and Public Works, Junad Rizki, a frequent critic of Council spending and policies, said, “I think [the study] is a total waste of the taxpayers’ money – money to do a study of a study… [Instead], a study needs to be done on the economic viability of the water department.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “It is interesting to listen to [Mr. Rizki] because I was going to ask a facetious question. … We’re probably going to endorse the study and probably not going to agree with the rate increase.” She asked what the point would be of paying for advice Council would in all likelihood reject. “I’m not going to say the words, ‘I agree with Junad,’ but I am going to come very close. … I think this is a questionable study.”
Dave Stoneback, superintendent of the City’s Utilities Department, said the City opted for a three-tiered rate increase recommended in the 2009 study but has implemented only one rate increase so far – a 10 percent hike last year. “We indicated that we would be back again this year, requesting a 5 percent increase and then a 3 percent increase.” He said that a study of the 2009 study would also take into account potential capital projects and figure the cost of those into a recommended rate hike or series of rate hikes.
Mr. Stonebeak also said that the water department conducted last year’s study and could conduct another in-house study this year. “We need a study every year,” he said.
The study made it out of committee on a 2-1 vote with Ald. Rainey voting no while Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voted to fund the study.
At City Council, Ald. Rainey said, “I gave some thought to this and I just think this is a waste of money [and] not necessary at this time.” No one else added further comment, but apparently both Alds. Holmes and Braithwaite had given it some more thought between A&PW and Council as well. They both joined Ald. Rainey in voting no.
The other three aldermen present – Mark Tendam, 6th Ward; Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward; and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, – voted in favor of the outsourced study.
With a 3-3 vote, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was ready to break the tie, but Ald. Rainey raised a point of order citing a “little-known” City Council rule requiring five aldermen to vote in favor of an ordinance in order for it to pass. Sure enough, Council Rule 18.3 provides: “All ordinances and authorizations to expend or disburse monies shall be passed only by a roll-call vote, duly recorded (five (5) votes).”
The motion failed. The water department will once again be conducting its own water rate study updating the 2009 Water Cost of Service Rate and Fee study.