JOLIET – After much discussion, Joliet City Council voted Tuesday night to increase water rates by 7 percent beginning Nov. 1.
The rate increase, which was recommended by consulting firm Burns McDonnell, will allow the city to complete a series of water and sewer projects estimated to cost $100 million over the coming years and meet unfunded Environmental Protection Agency mandates.
During the meeting, Councilwoman Jan Quillman asked what the absolute deadline is for a vote. Quillman had expressed hesitance last week to an increase as some people are just now exiting the economic downturn.
Quillman said Councilman Larry Hug proposed a 5 percent increase and she mentioned 6 percent when she met with the consultants rather than 7 percent. But Hock said – citing studies the city has already paid for – the 7 percent increase allows the city to get away from a crisis management approach of “repair and replace.”
Hock said the increase would help the city to be proactive rather than reactive. The Utilities Department, which is funded solely through water and sewer rates, is projected to run out of reserve funds by 2022 at the existing rates.
The typical Joliet resident pays $54 a month for water and sewer, while the regional average is $67, Burns McDonnell’s David Naumann said.
As currently proposed, the city would increase rates another 7 percent in both November 2017 and 2018. But the increase could be amended after each of the next two years as the city implements a new billing system.
The city has been inefficiently billing customers for several years, which brought a large fluctuation in revenue from year to year relative to the amount of water that was actually used.
In 2013, the city had a 30 percent loss; in 2014, the city had a 15 percent gain; and in 2015, the city had a 30 percent loss, Hock said.
“There’s a 45 percent swing in there, and the industry standard is that a 6 to 8 percent loss is acceptable,” Hock said. “But what this really tells us is that our billing system is unreliable. And that’s why we’ve switched billing software and we’re in the process of implementing that.”
On top of the revenue from the 7 percent rate increase, the city could see additional revenue because of a more accurate billing system.
“In a year from now if our revenues are coming in much stronger than expected, believe me, staff will recommend to revise these increases and reduce them if that’s the case,” Hock said.
Ultimately council voted, 6-1, to approve the increase. Hug voted “no.” Most council members said that while they felt bad about having to increase rates, it’s certainly necessary to protect the city and its residents.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said the city has known since the 1980s some of this work needs to be done and that the federal government will fine the city if the work is not completed.
New Councilwoman Brooke Hernandez-Brewer, who was voted in unanimously by city council, abstained from all votes on Tuesday.
• This article has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Brooke Hernandez-Brewer. The Herald-News regrets the error.