A proposal to raise water rates for village of residents was approved Monday night. But the rate hike divided the Village Board, requiring Village President Marilyn Michelini to cast the deciding vote.
The increase will raise water rates by three percent, from $4.75 to $4.90 per 1,000 gallons used, according to Finance Director Jeff Zoephel, and is expected to bring in $75,000 to the village’s water fund.
The rate hike would be retroactive to Jan. 1, which means it will first appear on water bills sent out in April. It's based on a five-year water rate study adopted in 2009 that recommended an increase of 70 cents per 1,000 gallons in 2010, 50 cents per 1,000 in 2011, and a three-percent hike each year for the next three.
The increase only impacts residents of the village, not those who live in unincorporated areas like Boulder Hill. Those residents will continue to pay $6.03 per 1,000 gallons. Zoephel explained that the village has been trying to narrow the gap between the water rates for those inside and outside the village limits.
Trustees Stan Bond, Pete Heinz and Andy Kaczmarek voted against the increase. With a 3-3 tie on the board, Michelini was called on to decide the issue, and she voted for the rate hike.
Though Boulder Hill residents will not be affected by the increase, they influenced the vote. Homeowners there have been complaining of foul-smelling rusty water since one of the village’s wells—Well 14, on the west side—failed in November.
The village began pumping water from other sources, and according to Director Mike Pubentz, the change in water direction shook loose rust deposits that had built up in the cast-iron pipes below Boulder Hill. The village paid an additional $7,600 to expedite repair of the well, and brought it back online on Jan. 20.
But while some residents said their water cleared up after the well was repaired, others have reported the rust returning over the past few weeks, or never dissipating at all. Five Boulder Hill residents spoke at Monday’s meeting, all of them pleading with the board to fix the problem as quickly as possible.
Pat Stiles said turning on his faucet is always a gamble: “Sometimes it’s halfway clear, and sometimes you get peach cobbler,” he said, pointing to a jar of brown water he brought with him. Dawn Friel said her water has not improved, and she believes it’s been causing skin sores on herself and her son. She said she is spending $36 a week on bottled water.
“I don’t think all of you guys understand what a problem it is,” she said. “Please, somebody fix it.”
Board members have discussed the possibility of offering compensation to Boulder Hill residents experiencing rusty water issues. But Patrick Henry said he’s not interested in the money.
“All I want is clean, drinkable water delivered to my residence,” he said, “and assurance that there will be no health ramifications resulting from this.”
While the water issues have reportedly been worse since the failure of Well 14, many Boulder Hill residents have had rust problems for years, if not decades. Cindy Sansale said her water has been rusty since 1978, and she’s been waiting for a solution.
That solution may require looping dead-end water mains, and replacing portions of the Boulder Hill water network—a process that could cost as much as $50 million, according to village leaders. Trustee Stan Bond said he would have preferred to table the water rate hike vote until a short-term and long-term solution for Boulder Hill can be developed.
Trustee Andy Kaczmarek previously asked if the vote could be postponed, but Zoephel explained that the Fiscal Year 2013 budget would need to be reworked if they did so, since several expenses are already tied to the new water fund money the increase will bring in.
Trustees are scheduled to vote on the budget in April. That budget includes money for a new water rate study, and Village Manager Anne Marie Gaura said that study could include options for looping Boulder Hill water mains, if the board chooses.
Also on Monday, trustees unanimously approved buying a new deep well pump motor from Layne Christensen Company for $124,000. This motor will be used in the new Well 15, set to go online in April. While the new well will not directly affect Boulder Hill, Pubentz said, it will help the water system overall.
Trustee Denny Lee, before casting his yes vote, said he is glad the board approved a rate increase.
“These $124,000 problems keep popping up,” he said.