New task force hopes to grow as it fights rising water rates
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com April 17, 2014 7:24PM
Charles Dieringer (right), of Chicago Heights, makes a point during the first meeting Wednesday night of a suburban water task force that hopes to address the rise in water rates that Chicago is charging suburbs. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2014 2:27PM
A new movement to have Water Allocated Through Equitable Rates — WATER — gained about a dozen foot soldiers Wednesday night to try to stop what the group calls “arbitrary and capricious” water rate increases from Chicago.
Mokena Trustee Don Labriola, who is trying to create a suburban water task force to discuss and draw attention to this issue, said he does not intend to “lead a revolt, but to spread the word” to the other 170 towns that are served Lake Michigan water via Chicago that something has to be done.
Hosting the hourlong meeting in Mokena with Labriola was Steve Pollak, Mokena’s retired police chief, who pointed out that from 2005 to 2015, Chicago will have raised its water rates 187 percent — most of it in the last five years.
Residents need to let their local and state elected officials know how they feel about the rising rates, they said.
“If they don’t hear complaints, they will assume everyone is happy,” Labriola said. “No one is happy, but no one knows what to do about it.”
Senate Bill 2907, known as the Water Rate Protection Act but still in its early stages, has been proposed by state Sen. Steve Landek, D-Bridgeview.
A task force — similar to the one Labriola is creating — was formed a few years ago by the West Central Municipal Conference, a group of mayors from 51 towns in western Cook and eastern DuPage Counties, who pushed for legislation to address this concern.
There will be a hearing on the bill Wednesday, Labriola said.
“The water rates are horrendous,” Mokena resident Bob Herling said. “We are a complacent society, but when it hits your pocketbook ... ”
He applauded Labriola and Pollak for starting the effort and urged those present to bring a few friends to the next meeting. That date has yet to be determined.
“It will grow,” he said of this new movement.
But it will take time. In the short term, one attendee suggested that municipalities subsidize the water rates and make it easier for residents to swallow.
Charles Dieringer, an environmental activist from Chicago Heights, said he came to offer “sympathy and direction.”
Chicago Heights gets its water from Hammond and lost in federal court in an effort to stop its rate increase, he said.
Dieringer suggested that the group get auditors to review Chicago’s books, since there is no oversight of its water system.
While it is too early to answer the question of how to control water rates, those present believe there is strength in numbers.
Labriola said his next step is “communication, collaboration and unification” with other agencies that get Chicago water.
“We have the ability to make a lot of noise. We have to come up with one idea that is going to work,” he said.