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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 07:27 am

A drop in the bucket

Despite rate increase, CWLP water still a bargain

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City Water, Light & Power finance director Craig Burns has turned educating people about water into his own personal mission. Residents lose sight of how cheap water actually is, Burns says, especially when they’re faced with a seemingly gargantuan rate increase like the 80.2 percent overall hike approved by the Springfield City Council last week. Even after the full rate increase takes effect, he explains, the typical customer will pay less for water than for most other commodities. “Let’s say you put 10 gallons of gas in your car — that’s $35 today,” Burns says. “If you run your car on water instead of gas, that same 10 gallons would cost you less than four cents. Not less than four cents a gallon — less than four cents for 10 gallons.”
Some residents also tend to focus on the percentages of water-rate increases, Burns adds, without realizing that the figures represent the expected gross revenue for the entire water fund. When all of the rate increases are phased in — 25 percent on May 1; 17 percent on March 1, 2009; 12 percent on March 1, 2010; and 10 percent on March 1, 2011 — the typical CWLP customer will see a 69-percent increase in his monthly bill. According to CWLP, the typical customer uses 10 units of water per month, or 7,480 gallons (one unit of water equals 748 gallons). Today, that customer’s monthly bill is $16.56. After this year’s increase it’ll be $19.43 and will eventually total $28 by 2011. Burns says the small user, who uses three units of water per month, will experience even less of an increase. Currently such users pay $7.11 a month, and after the first step, they’ll pay $8 a month. After the remaining rate increases are factored in, they’ll pay $11.52 per month for their water. Burns notes that the statewide average for a three-unit bill today is more than $14. “A point that I’ve been making is that the city of Springfield does recognize the smaller customer in a way that most other water utilities don’t,” he says. Additionally, according to CWLP, the current monthly water bill for a typical 10-unit water customer is $42.19 in Rochester, $32.75 in Peoria, and $38.97 in Chatham. CWLP originally proposed a 97.7-percent water-rate hike in February to fund $84.4 million in water-system improvements, specifically the replacement of the 70-plus-year-old pump house. But after aldermen balked at its two-year phase-in period and steep increases, the utility reprioritized its needs and returned with an extended five-step rate increase. At last week’s council meeting, aldermen scrapped the fifth step of the water-rate increase by eliminating $500,000 for lake-area road and bridge repair and $7.6 million for a west-side storage tank from the utility’s list of needs. They also scaled back funding for mains, hydrants, services, and meter replacements from $1 million to $800,000 per year. The water-rate increase was approved 8-2, with Ward 4 Ald. Frank Lesko and Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman casting opposing votes. Both aldermen said that more time was needed to review the issue. Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards says that in hindsight he believes that Lesko and Cahnman were right. “The aldermen just wanted to get it over with,” he says, “but in all honesty the ordinance should’ve gone back to committee.”
The aldermen could have cut other expenses from the CWLP list, Edwards says, but most of the projects were valid, so he voted to get them done. In addition to the water-treatment pump station and clearwell, the approved water-infrastructure-improvement program includes electrical upgrades, the completion of Spaulding Dam gates, and an enclosure for chlorine storage.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com
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