Evanston homeowners could soon see their water bills go up by $5.60, on average, if the city council passes an ordinance to raise water rates.
Aldermen voted last week to introduce the ordinance, which would increase water rates by 3 percent beginning July 1, 2013.
City officials say a water rate increase will eventually be necessary to offset the cost of bonds sold to finance capital improvement projects.
At last Monday’s meeting, aldermen voted 9-0 to approve introduction of the ordinance. However, Ald. Ann Rainey said she was hesitant about voting to approve the ordinance without further information about how the city’s water rates compare to neighboring communities.
Evanston’s current water rate is $2.34 per 1,000 gallons, according to utilities director David Stoneback, and could go up to $2.41 per 1,000 gallons. The city sells its water wholesale to the village of Skokie for 98 cents per gallon, and Skokie charges its residents $4.35 per 1,000 gallons.
Even if the increase is passed, Evanston’s water rate would still be significantly lower than that of its neighboring communities. Nearby, Chicago, Wilmette and Northbrook are the only other municipalities that supply their own water, like Evanston, and all three charge higher rates.
The city of Chicago charges residents $2.51 per 1,000 gallons, and will raise the rate to $2.89 per 1,000 gallons in January 2013. Wilmette charges its residents about $3.33 per 1,000 gallons, and Northbrook charges $4.08 per 1,000 gallons.
The 3 percent water rate increase would be the final rate hike in a series of water rate increases that began in 2011, when Evanston’s water rate went up by 10 percent. At that time, utilities staff recommended two more rate increases in the next two years, a hike of 5 percent effective Jan. 1, 2012, and a hike of three percent effective Jan. 1, 2013. Council members approved the 5 percent increase last year.
Because the city brought in more usage charges for water during the drought this summer, utilities staff say the city could postpone the third water rate increase to next July.
At last Monday’s council meeting, Ald. Coleen Burrus wanted to know what would be the effect of postponing the water rate increase even further. Stoneback told her that the utilities department would probably defer an $85,000 engineering study to improve the system’s functionality. He also said the department might cut back on hiring some seasonal positions.
City manager Wally Bobkiewicz cautioned that the city would lose the momentum of regular increases of smaller amounts, and might need to pass a much higher water rate hike later.
“The council has been inconsistent over an extended period of time with how those rates have been adjusted,” he said. “What we’ve heard from you is you’d rather have a flatter line.”
Both Ald. Jane Grover and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said they supported the water rate hike.
“We [would] still have the lowest water rates than any of our neighbors and other municipalities in the Chicago area,” she said.