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City Council approves water rate hike

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Evanston City Council Monday voted 6-3 to approve a 10 percent water rate increase for 2014.

City staff recommended the increase as a way to generate $500,000 more water utility income to decrease dependence on bond revenues and create a more sustainable capital improvement fund, according to a staff memo.

The increase will cost the average household about $19 a year.

The minimum two-month usage charge, which covers 500 cubic feet or 3,740 gallons — will increase from $6.43 to $7.07. The price for each additional 100 cubic feet will rise from $1.80 to 1.98.

Also recommended by staff, but not approved by the council, was additional 10 percent water rate increases in both 2015 and 2016 which would add up to a compounded increase for the three years of 33 percent.

The additional increases would fund what city staff says is much-need capital improvements to the five million gallon reservoir south of the treatment plant and the feeder main between the pumping station and downtown area.

It is unclear at this point whether or not the city will decide to rehabilitate or replace the water tank entirely, and staff wrote that a study of the structure is proposed for 2014 to determine what would prove a better investment over the long-term.

Several residents in attendance at the meeting complained about the rate hike.

Resident Junad Ritzki claimed the increased revenue — though said to be used for capital improvements — would actually be used for other things. He also said that if the water tank were to be replaced — which would cost upwards of $20 million — Evanston residents would be forced to foot the bill for an unnecessary project.

"I cannot afford to pay these bills," said resident Madeline Ducre. Her bills have already increased due to previous hikes in the sewer rate, she said. After speaking with fellow residents, Ducre said "they cannot afford this and what is going to happen when they can't afford this?" "We need another way of dealing with it," she said.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the costs to citizens and the community for water main breaks "is just incredible."

"It costs money to make these repairs and for that reason I can't justify voting against it based on the fact the infrastructure is in desperate need of attention and this is the only way to do it," Rainey said.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Dolores Holmes, 5th Ward, voted against the increase.

After the vote Rainey repeated her oft-rejected proposal to shift the cost of water and sewer service back to property tax bills so they would be deductible for homeowners who itemize their federal income taxes.

The city moved years ago to charge separately for water service so it could force Northwestern University and other large non-profit users to pay for the water they consume.

Separate billing, city officials say, also encourages conservation measures, which reduce overall costs.

In other water-related business, the council approved, without discussion, an ordinance allowing the city to seek a loan of up to $2.3 million from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for improvements to one of three water plant intake pipes in Lake Michigan.

The proposed improvements include the installation of a heating system to mitigate the effects of frazil ice and repairs to the intake's mussel control system.

The council unanimously approved a sanitation fee increase of $3 per month for 95-gallon carts. Residents with the larger size carts will see their fee increase from $14.95 per month to $17.95. The rate for the smaller, 65-gallon carts, will remain unchanged.

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