by Susan O’Neill
ELBURN—Elburn residents may see an increase in their water and sewer bills as of May 1, but they won’t be the large increases seen two years ago. At that time, the village instituted a base fee in 2012 of $10, $5 for water and $5 for sewer. In addition, the usage rates went up significantly, as well.
The 2010 increases came at a time when the village was losing over $20,000 each month in its water and sewer funds. Prior to that increase, water rates hadn’t been raised since the 1980s, and sewer rates since the 1990s.
This year, the base fees of $5 for water and $5 for sewer will both be increased to $5.50, and the water usage rates will go from $3.50 per 100 cubic feet to $3.62 per 100 cubic feet, with the sewer usage rates increasing from $2.60 per 100 cubic feet to $2.69 per 100 cubic feet.
What all of these increases will mean for the average resident user, who uses approximately 700 cubic feet of water per month, is an increase in their bill from $52.70 to $55.17 per month.
Village officials cited increased costs, decreased revenues and an aging infrastructure in need of maintenance as the reasons for the need to increase the base fees and rates. The base fee was created, in part, to pay for capital expenditures that the village had not attended to for many years.
Village President Dave Anderson said the old way of managing the water and sewer systems was management by catastrophe. According to Anderson, the Nebraska Street water main was patched together so many times, it finally blew. When the village replaced it, it had breaks in it at eight or nine different places.
“We are headed in the right direction,” Anderson said. “We’re setting up schedules for preventative maintenance.”
Public Works Supervisor Jenna Cook said there were several capital projects that could not be put off any longer, such as the cleaning and painting of three of the four water towers and a telemetry system upgrade for wells 3 and 4. Telemetry is a radio system that signals the well pumps to turn on and off when the water reaches certain levels.
A portion of the sewer base fees, approximately $1.10, is dedicated to repaying a $240,000 bond from Kane County. That bond will take 10 years to repay. Funds to repay a loan the village is hoping to obtain from the Illinois Environmental Agency for upgrades to the waste-water treatment system would also come out of the sewer base fees. This loan would take the village 20 years to repay, and would take up to $2 of the $5.50 charged per household.
The usage rates are used for operating expenses, which include things like chemicals, electricity, basic maintenance and lab supplies, Cook explained. The revenues from the usage rates have actually gone down since the rates were increased, because residents started using less water. Following the rate hike two years ago, the system began pumping 4 million gallons less than prior to the increase.
In addition, the village has received almost nothing from water and sewer connection fees, due to the lack of development in recent years.
Village President Anderson suggested an automatic increase each year based on the consumer price index. However, Village Administrator Erin Willret said that she did not think that would be enough to keep up with expenses. Trustee Jeff Walter recommended a yearly review of the water and sewer expenses versus income, to determine what, if any, increase should take place.
The board will vote on the increases at the board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.