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While there may be good news ahead about increased water sales to nearby communities, any such news has not filtered down to Evanston water consumers: as yet. On Nov. 10, City Council introduced an ordinance to increase water rates by 10% effective January 2015. The vote is expected at the Nov. 24 City Council meeting.
The ordinance was introduced for discussion, and Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Peter Braithwaite, 2nd ward, voted “no.” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who has stated opposition to continued rate increases in the past, was not present.
According to the staff memo and presentation accompanying the request for a rate increase, the additional revenue is necessary to cover the water department’s capital improvement plans for the coming years. Water rates have now increased five years in a row. Rates went up 10% in 2011, 5% in 2012, 3% in 2013, 10% in 2014, and now 10% in 2015.
The staff states that in 2011, water cost $2.23 per 1,000 gallons after the first 10% increase. In 2016, if the additional 10% increase is passed, water will cost about $3.21 per 1,000 gallons.
In Evanston, water rates alone do not tell the full story because they are combined with sewer costs on each water bill. As a result, comparing Evanston’s water rates to that of nearby communities is not helpful – it is not possible to pay for water alone as a homeowner in Evanston.
As a result of the Deep Tunnel project and other sewer improvements, Evanston has one of the highest sewer rates in the Chicagoland area. When water and sewer are combined, Evanston has climbed up the chart annually and now sits in the upper half of combined water and sewer rates.
In 2015, the average water-sewer bill will be $685 per year in Evanston, compared to just $412 in neighboring Skokie. Skokie is one of Evanston’s water customers – all Skokie’s water comes from Evanston’s treatment plant. The highest water-sewer rates can be found in Morton Grove — $882 per year. The average for nearby communities is $673, placing Evanston above the average. Last year, at $664, Evanston was still below average.
The staff memo ties the increase to announced Chicago water-rate increases. Many nearby communities currently get their water from Chicago. “These communities will likely need to continue raising their water rates annually to keep pace with Chicago water-rate increases,” according to the staff memo. If so, Evanston may slip back below average in the future, provided our water rates do not continue to escalate.
“The proposed [now adopted] 10% increase will generate an additional $625,000 in revenue to help reduce the dependence on bond proceeds and make the capital improvement program funding more sustainable over the long-term,” said the staff memo.
Later in the meeting, City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons revealed that “the current general fund has a surplus of about $800,000.” At the request of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, about $350,000 of that surplus will be transferred to the capital fund to be used to repave an additional half mile of Evanston roadway. No such transfer was proposed for water projects.
One capital project sits as an elephant in the room: the proposed and much debated underground water reservoir replacement. A report studying water tank options, including repair of the current reservoir under a Northwestern parking lot near Sheridan Road and Lincoln Street, has not yet been made public.
Community Combined Annual Water & Sewer Bill 1
Buffalo Grove, $476
Arlington Heights, $510
Evanston (current), $664
Evanston (2015), $685
Des Plaines, $746
Park Ridge, $773
Oak Park, $843
Morton Grove, $882
Average (proposed), $673