Chicago water rate hikes hit Orland

By Jeff Vorva

For the next three years, Orland Park residents will be soaked with three water rate increases and village officials are quick to point out that most of the increases are spiking because of the city of Chicago's 15 percent increase to provide Lake Michigan water to suburban towns.

"I want to make sure that our residents know that this is going to go on for a while as Chicago continues to take up its rates," village Trustee James Dodge said Monday night during a Finance Committee meeting. "We are at the mercy of the city of Chicago taking its rates up aggressively."

The new water rates, which will raise the average homeowner's bill to approximately $60 per year, will be voted on and likely be passed at the Jan. 21 Village Board meeting.

The raise in the rate also reflects a 435 percent increase from the village of Oak Lawn, which delivers the water to the area. For the past 15 years, Oak Lawn has charged Orland Park 4 cents per 1,000 gallons and is raising it to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. The two villages are in negotiations to lock in a rate for the long-term future.

Orland Park will raise its rates 3 percent to keep up its infrastructure and maintenance.

The Village Board's Finance Committee discussed the outline of the rate hikes and a three-tier system that residents can take advantage of to try to save money. Most residents currently pay $4.06 per 1,000 gallons. Those who use 9,000 or less per year will be charged $4.65 per 1,000 gallons, whose who use 9,000-18,000 gallons will be charged $5.62 per 1,000 gallons and those who use more than 18,000 gallons will be charged $6.59 per 1,000 gallons.

"The more you use, the more you will pay," Dodge said. "So if people want to try to reduce their water bills they could try to conserve water to try to get to a different rate class. That's important."

Those numbers will be higher by $2 to $3 per 1,000 gallons in the unincorporated areas and Alpine Heights will have a flat rate of $4.48 per 1,000 gallons.

Despite the sticker shock of the proposed increases, officials researched what residents in other communities are paying and say they are on the lower end of the spectrum.

The village's survey showed that neighboring Homer Glen residents are paying $9.01 per 1,000 gallons. Tinley Park residents pay $4.85 if they use less than 20,000 gallons and $6.91 if they use more than 20 gallons. Orland Hills residents pay $6.78 and Oak Forest residents pay $6.65 if they use less than 25,000 gallons and $7.36 if they use 25,000 or more gallons. Mokena charges $5.86 and Chicago Heights charges $5.50.

"Our rates already reflect this proposed increase," Village Manager Paul Grimes said. "We're in the lower quartile. Our rates are still very attractive when you compare them with other south suburban communities. That provides some perspective to our residents. While it's never a pleasant thing to have to pass on a rate increase, our rates are very competitive compared to some of the other neighbors.

"Our proposed rates are about half of Homer Glen's – our neighbor to the west."

But the increase is likely going to make some residents angry. Village officials stress that it's out of their hands.

"We have to let them know that there will be another 15 percent increase next year and it will happen again in 2015 so that nobody will be shocked," Dodge said.

"It's coming again and we have absolutely no control," Trustee Pat Gira said. "Here is the heads- up. We have no control."