JOLIET – Joliet residents could see a 9 percent increase in water and sewer rates on Oct. 1 if the City Council approves a proposal presented Monday.
The proposal from city staff and a consultant is for annual rate hikes over the next four years to fund both mandated improvements in the system and yearly maintenance.
Utilities Director James Eggen said funding issues have “been ignored, and we’ve been at a freeze since 2011. The way to avoid a massive increase is to do smaller annual increases.”
The last hike was approved in 2009, increasing rates 35 percent that year and another 10 percent through 2011.
The 9 percent increase proposed Monday would be followed by another 8 percent hike in 2016, 6 percent in 2017 and 5 percent in 2018, according to the proposal.
The average monthly residential bill would go from $54.47 to roughly $59, according to an analysis from consultant Burns & McDonnell.
Increases would be higher for commercial and industrial users. Council members were cautious, with some saying they want more analysis before approving a rate hike.
Councilman Jim McFarland pointed to recent developments in which the city is pursuing $819,000 from two neighboring sanitary districts, which Joliet claims have not paid money owed for years.
“How much in outstanding water and sewer bills are owed to the City of Joliet?” McFarland asked. “I think we have not looked at all the revenue that owed to us.”
Councilman John Gerl joined McFarland in pointing to the financial impact of the rate hikes.
“These are some pretty hefty rate increases, and I’m not sure our residents can afford them,” Gerl said.
But David Naumann, project manager with Burns & McDonnell, said Joliet water and sewer rates are below those of similar towns in the region and have increased at a much slower rate than the national average.
Naumann said the firm’s study shows Joliet rates since 2000 have kept up with inflation, increasing by 40 percent. But water and sewer rates nationwide have increased an average of 120 percent in that same period.
Rates are rising to keep up with Environmental Protection Agency mandates and to replace aging infrastructure, Naumann said.
The council went into closed session to discuss Evergreen Terrace ahead of a vote on Tuesday on whether to spend the $15 million price set by a jury to buy the low-income housing complex.
City Manager Jim Hock said the closed session was needed to discuss ongoing legal matters concerning the 10-year old lawsuit with Evergreen Terrace owners, who plan to appeal judgments in favor of the city.
“There are some negotiation items that I believe need to be discussed in closed session, but I believe there is a lot I can discuss publicly tomorrow night,” Hock said.