Water and sewer rates are going up in Flossmoor.
Village board members Monday unanimously approved a water and sewer rate increase of $1.25 per thousand gallons. The increase goes into effect, retroactively, as of April 1.
With the increase, Flossmoor’s water and sewer rate now stands at $13.95 per thousand gallons. Finance Director Scott Bordui said the increase is likely to mean the average residential customer in the village will pay an additional $32 on a quarterly water bill.
Bordui recommended a $1.50 hike in the water and sewer rate but three of the five village board members at Monday’s meeting found that amount unacceptable.
A vote on the $1.50 recommendation, immediately before the approval of the lesser amount, was defeated, with Mayor Paul Braun casting a tie-breaking vote against the measure. Trustees Perry Hoag and Philip Minga supported the $1.50 increase, with James Crum and James Wilder voting against it.
Minga and Hoag argued in favor of Bordui’s recommendation, which was largely based on a projected shortfall of $235,000 in the designated reserve level in the Water and Sewer Fund, which village officials have set at slightly more than $1 million.
That shortfall is exacerbated, Bordui said, by a continuing “poor” billed-to-purchase ratio that is currently about 66 percent. He said Flossmoor yearly buys about 360 million gallons of Lake Michigan water from Harvey – which purchases it from Chicago – but only bills residents and businesses for 240 million gallons.
The loss of that water is largely a result of underperforming meters and continuing leaks from water mains around the village. Both of those problems are being addressed. Flossmoor is in the fourth year of a $7.28 million water main replacement project. Also, the village this year plans to replace 1,450 water meters that are not working properly. By the end of 2017, all homes in Flossmoor are expected to have state-of-the-art meters that work properly.
“It’s a big amount,” Minga said before the vote on the $1.50 increase. “But at some point we’ve got to bite the bullet. Replacing the water meters is a real priority. We are seeing a constant under reporting from the meters.”
“I don’t like the numbers, but I’d rather get our house in order,” Hoag said.
Braun said he was opposed to the $1.50 increase, calling it too much of a burden on Flossmoor residents. He said it was too much to try to make up the reserve shortfall in one year and asked to spread it out over the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years.
“There’s a lot of angst out there over water rates,” Braun said.
In a memo to the board, Bordui said that the billed-to-purchase ratio results in a continuing drain on village revenues.
“Water loss is normal in any system, but our ratio continues to be at such a low enough point where it is an ongoing contributing factor to the rate increase recommendation,” Bordui wrote. “The 2016 fiscal year will likely be the sixth consecutive year the village has at least a 33 percent water loss and the tenth consecutive year with at least a 25 percent water loss. The trend has proven to be unsustainable in terms of its impact on water rates and has resulted in large increases.”
Bordui said the replacement of residential water meters “should become a high, and perhaps even top, financial priority for the village.”
Flossmoor’s water rates have also steadily climbed in recent years because of significant cost increases from Chicago. In the past four years, Chicago has increased its water rates by, respectively, 25 percent, 15 percent, 15 percent and 15 percent.
So far, Chicago has not announced a water rate increase for 2016, Bordui said.
However, that doesn’t mean another water rate isn’t coming.
“The city could still apply a retroactive increase to the beginning of the year,” Bordui said.