The Lockport City Council on Wednesday night unanimously approved new increases in water rates and a new gasoline tax that officials have said the city needs to generate revenue to cover $80 million infrastructure projects planned for the next 10 years.
One ordinance increases water rates by 5 percent, which includes an increase in the water surcharge, annually for five years effective June 1 – with another increase this year on Dec. 15 and then annually after that.
The other ordinance imposes a 5-cent tax on gasoline and a 7-cent tax on diesel that will likely go into effect in April.
Both measures were on the City Council’s consent agenda and were to be approved without discussion, as they had been discussed at the council’s Committee of the Whole meetings since January. However, before the vote, a member of the sanitary district for unincorporated Lockport Heights was allowed to make comments.
Roy Adcock, a Lockport Heights Sanitary District trustee, pressed the council on why the city needed to generate revenues by increasing water rates after rates had been increased in 2010 by a previous council.
“We’re here to vote for water rate increases again, for the same thing again – new wells, water filtration and new water mains,” Adcock said.
In 2010, the city had held arbitration proceedings with the Bonnie Brae and Lockport Heights sanitary districts – both of which it serves – after they refused initial proposed rate hikes by a different city council. Rates increases were approved after a binding ruling by an arbitrator in November of that year.
Mayor Steven Streit told Adcock that the previous increases were needed to get the city to be able to pay for upkeep of its systems.
“This water system was in the red and we cannot operate in the red by law,” Streit said. “And so those original increases just brought us to maintenance.”
Alderman Jason VanderMeer said that the city now has a capital improvements plan that it intends to meet.
“As I’m up here voting and as I talk to residents, I can point to [the capital improvements plan] and say, ‘This is our plan,’ ” VanderMeer said.
“Is there a chance that we won’t execute 100 percent as to this plan – as we’re being realistic, of course there is. But in order to execute that, as the mayor said, this is an enterprise fund that has to be funded through water and sewer rates,” he said.
City Administrator Ben Benson said the city last year negotiated a settlement agreement with both sanitary districts in which they agreed to allow the city to increase rates up to 5 percent per year.
Benson added that the city’s dealings with the two districts have been strained for many years and one of his goals has been to repair those relationships.
The City Council also approved a $963,252 bid from Layne Christensen Company for the building of a new well – Well 15 – on 151st Street at Interstate 355. This is the first part of the $4.5 million project that is part of the capital improvements plan for which the city is raising water rates.
According to a memo by Director of Public Works Brett Cann attached to the resolution, the new deep well will provide softer water and will be blended with water from the shallow Well 10 to provide better water throughout the city.
The project is expected to take 2½ years to complete, Benson said.