The Chicago Heights Water Department building on U.S. 30 Thursday, November 15, 2012. Chicago Heights and some other towns get water from Hammond, Ind. Hammond is jacking up its rates and mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is unapologetic about it, saying water is their future and Indiana can't stop him from raising rates in Illinois. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:54AM
Chicago Heights has pulled the plug on a federal lawsuit it filed last year to fight a water rate increase from Hammond.
For residents, it means more money down the drain. Water rates recently went from $2.47 to $5.50 per 748 gallons, including operations and maintenance costs, Chicago Heights officials said.
The increase was passed along after Hammond quadrupled what it charges Chicago Heights for Lake Michigan water — from 57 cents per 1,000 gallons to $2.20 — when their 30-year deal expired in November.
Chicago Heights is no longer fighting the new rate, which is still lower than the $2.89 per 1,000 gallons that Chicago is charging this year.
“At the end of the day, it is what it is. Hammond had the leverage. We didn’t,” Chicago Heights city attorney TJ Somer said Friday of the motion filed Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit.
More increases are expected in the future. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has contended that Chicago sets the market price for water, and that he intends to take advantage of that to benefit his city. Chicago last year approved a plan that increases rates by 70 percent over four years, and which includes a formula for further increases after that.
Hammond has provided water to Chicago Heights for decades, and Chicago Heights in turn has sold water to other towns, including Glenwood, Thornton, South Chicago Heights and Ford Heights.
The new agreement between Hammond and Chicago Heights is for 20 years, and the $2.20 rate is what Hammond asked for before the lawsuit was even filed.
“The only thing that really happened is we both incurred a lot of attorneys fees,” McDermott said Friday.
In a letter to residents, Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez said that despite the increase, households without senior citizens would pay only about $43 more annually for water, and households with senior citizens would pay about $12 more.
The city last month eliminated a community service fee, saving an average of $225 per household, so some residents might even realize an overall annual decrease in their water bills, the letter said.
Contributing: Teresa Auch Schultz, Casey Toner