City’s New Water Rate Ordinance Proves Size Does Matter


Monday night’s City Council meeting was the first demonstration of the significant difference between new Park Ridge 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca and his predecessor.

Former 6th Ward ald. Tom Bernick’s approach to City business, when he showed up at all, often consisted of a recitation of everything he had inspected and everybody he had talked to, culminating in several disjointed observations that usually produced more heat than light.  And, most of the time, no Council action.  

Despite being on the job less than a month, Mazzuca stepped up Monday night to challenge the water rate increase recommendations of the City’s water consultant, Baxter & Woodman.  He produced a five-page report promoting an amendment to the water rate ordinance that had already passed its first reading two weeks earlier, and even the consultant’s representative acknowledged that the report was very detailed and well done, even though it’s proposals defied conventional industry analyses based on the standards adopted by the American Water Works Association.

By the end of the evening, Mazzuca’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 4 (Alds. DiPietro, Smith, Knight and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Sweeney and Raspanti, Ald. Maloney absent).  Which goes to show what even an inexperienced alderman can accomplish when he doesn’t mistake mere activity for achievement – to paraphrase an axiom of the late, legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.

That’s not to say, however, that we’re in agreement with Mazzuca’s conclusions, or the Council’s action in passing the rate hike with his amendment. 

As long-time fans of user fees and cost recovery, we most definitely applaud the Council’s water rate increase to the extent it passes through to the users the full cost to the City of the water it purchases from the City of Chicago.  We also applaud the City’s imposing an additional charge on that water to help fund the cost of maintaining and improving the City’s water-delivery infrastructure.

Where we differ with Mazzuca and the Council, however, is on the new “fixed charge” based on the size of the water meter(s) servicing local homes, businesses and institutions. 

Under that new fixed fee structure, accounts with meters less than 1” – characteristically smaller/older single-family homes – will be charged $8.94 per bi-monthly billing period, while accounts serviced by larger-sized meters will be charged from $21.64 for 1” meters to $865.43 for 6” meters.  That translates into a commercial property owner with a 6” meter paying the City $5,192.58 per year just in meter fees, irrespective of its actual water usage, while a residential property owner with a 3/4” meter will pay only $53.64 in meter fees, also irrespective of water usage.

Why such a big differential? 

Beats us, other than it might be more of a political decision than a policy-based one – a suspicion aggravated by our inability to find any hard data showing that a 6” meter is $5,138.94 per year more expensive for the City to maintain, repair or replace than a 3/4” meter; or that the 6” meter causes $5,138.94 per year more wear and tear on the City’s water infrastructure than a 3/4″ meter.  

And, sadly enough, we can’t seem to find one shred of evidence that anybody – the City staff, consultant Baxter & Woodman, or Ald. Mazzuca himself – considered, or even possessed, any such hard data to support these meter-based charges.  

That raises the specter of political pandering, especially when Mazzuca punctuates his report in several places with references to the “shifting” of those fixed water charges from one group of users to another as a “better, more equitable allocation of fixed costs” based on some unidentified “best practice”; and when Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) invokes the populist-sounding rationale that “[s]ome will pay more, but 81 percent will be paying less.” 

Given the significant changes contained in Mazzuca’s amendment and the fact that he completed it only 3 days prior to the meeting, we think the Council might have been wise to have deferred a vote on it for two weeks, to give the public a chance to read, digest and comment on its recommendations.  

Interestingly enough, however, the water users likely to be hit the hardest by the new rate structure – Lutheran General Hospital, the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, the Park Ridge Country Club, and both local school districts – were notably absent from not only Monday night’s session but from the previous meeting at which the Council passed the first reading of this ordinance.  And as we understand it, only the Park District voiced its opposition to the increase via letter.  So expediting the vote on the amendment might not have been all that bad a decision.

Despite the apparent size-shouldn’t-matter arbitrariness and possible politicization of the meter size-based fees, this new water rate ordinance is a big step in the right direction of pay-as-you-go funding of water usage and infrastructure maintenance.  

And it also marks the new 6th Ward alderman as a potential force to be reckoned with on the Council.

To read or post comments, click on title.

7 comments so far

A amendment of this nature, basically revamping the proposed price structure, shouldn’t happen in one meeting. The council took an easy way out, not wanting to hear voters complain about their new water bill, they just shifted the bill to taxpayers through the Park District and School District, who have many of those larger meters. Mazzuca’s report was published on Friday and they voted to implement it on Monday. Not right.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t necessarily disagree, although all of the water rate increase except for the meter rejiggering had been on the table for awhile, yet the taxpayers didn’t show up to beef. But now that it’s been enacted, there’s still time for the outraged citizenry to come to the Council – this upcoming Monday’s COW, for starters – and ask the Council for a do-over. Want to bet on attendance figures?

I’m not surprised that you would talk up Mazzuca considering that you were on Schmidt’s committee that recommended him. Now we will have to hear you toot Mazzuca’s horn for the next nine months.

You are sooooooo obvious.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You may want to re-read the post. While we stand by our view that Mazzuca has already accomplished more in one month than Bernick did in a year, we didn’t exactly shower Mazzuca with rose petals on his meter-size amendment.

As for us being “soooooo obvious,” after all these years of writing this blog we sure would hope so.

I have now read your post, the Advocate’s story and the Journal’s story, and I still have no idea why Mazzuca or four aldermen want higher rates for the larger meters. I’m not complaining, mind you, just confused.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Join the club. As we noted, keeping things “revenue neutral” while “shifting” costs from small meters to big meters suggests a concept like “wealth redistribution” – even though we don’t know whether it’s a sign of wealth to have a big meter.

Bnon, you might want to peruse the consultants study or the Finance Directors work from January. What you are looking for is spelled out there. You may not like it or agree with it, but it is there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: How about a bit more specificity as to where the things your are talking about can be found? “January” doesn’t cut it, especially when the Council “packets” posted for the January meetings don’t appear at quick glance to include what you’re talking about.

Let’s see, the Country Club is not exactly Pacific Garden Mission, Lutheran General and the other hospitals charge a left you-know-what for everything and think a seminar or two qualifies them for tax-free status,and the School Districts take three-fourths of our local tax dollar. Is it a sign of wealth to have a big meter? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We like the irony of the fact that three of the four “big meter” accounts you’ve identified are either NFPs or governmental bodies – although we suspect you are drawing an inference that they are “big meter” accounts from the fact that they are among the community’s biggest water users, without any independent evidence of the those entities’ meter sizes.

So, what you are saying is talking to people and inspecting things is not the correct thing to do when you are trying to represent the city? Getting the input from the correct people that handle certain issues and matters in the city is wrong? I for one think Former Aldermen Bernick was doing a fine job and was helping the people in the community. He was not in the back pocket of our so called Mayor. You just do not like him because all of his “disjointed observations” were correct and made the council and you have to actually think for a change.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, what we are saying is that doing all those things that Bernick claimed he did are worthless when all he can do with them is produce a bunch of “disjointed observations” that don’t translate into any coherent plan of action. And what you call his “[g]etting input from the correct people” was usually just his being an unthinking parrot of whatever foolishness former City Mgr. Jim Hock was selling – and selling unsuccessfully, given that the Council sacked Hock by a 6-0 vote.

“I for one think Former Aldermen Bernick was doing a fine job and was helping the people in the community.”

I have to respectfully disagree with you there. I saw no real evidence of coherent, rational thought from the guy. He also gave off a strong whiff of what’s so distasteful in politics, tons of bluster and no substance. I’m not familiar with his replacement yet, but I think the city council’s better off without Bernick.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No substance, and no results.

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