JOLIET – The Joliet City Council for a second straight night put off proposed rate and fee hikes for water and sewer services, saying they wanted more information before making a decision.
The council on Monday decided to delay a proposed hike in general water and sewer rates that was to start on Oct. 1.
Flying under the radar were about a dozen fee increases ranging from tap-on charges for water mains to fines for late water payments. Those hikes were discussed at a public meeting for the first time Tuesday, and council members had to ask for clarification on how much some fees were being hiked.
Councilman John Gerl also called for the fee increases to be postponed so the city could hear from developers on what impact the fees would have on economic development.
“There’s still a lot of questions here,” Gerl said. “I think if we’re going to do something like this we need to reach out to our business community and find out if these fees are acceptable.”
Councilman Michael Turk at one point asked if staff had a comparison of the proposed fees with those of other municipalities. Utilities Directer James Eggen said he did not have the information.
The council on Monday put off hikes in water and sewer rates sought be Eggen.
Eggen had asked for a 9 percent increase on Oct. 1, followed in the next three years by hikes of 8 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent.
Councilman Larry Hug said Monday he did not want to vote on a rate hike until a consultant was brought in to find cost savings in the city’s utility operations.
“We brought in a consultant to tell us how to spend money. I’d like to bring in a consultant to tell us how to save it,” Hug said.
The rate hikes were based on a consultant’s analysis looking at needed revenues to pay for $71 million in mandated sewer improvements as well as about $50 million in spending to improve water mains and other utility lines and facilities.
Staff said such a study will take several months and that the city needs to find a way to fund the mandated improvements by July 2016. The $71 million is the cost the city faces to complete the job separation of storm water discharge from sanitary sewage discharge throughout Joliet. The separation is mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
On Tuesday, Councilman Pat Mudron questioned the decision to push back rate hikes to fund the mandated project. He noted some council members had complained that previous city councils had not finished the job in the past.
“With us kicking this down the road again, aren’t we doing the same thing we said other councils have done?” Mudron asked.
But some council members want to know how much of a rate increase would be needed to fund the mandated improvements alone before making a decision.