Illinois American Water wanter to raise rates by at least 20 percent

City administrators in Pekin and Peoria may fight against water rate increases proposed by Illinois American Water Co. because of the financial hardships they would put on residents.

 

"Residents don’t have the option of taking fewer baths, not flushing the toilet or drinking less water," said Pekin Mayor Dave Tebben of the increase the water company has proposed for the Pekin area.

 

Illinois American wants to raise the water rate in the Pekin area by 26.7 percent and the Peoria rate by 20 percent, according to a proposal it filed last week with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

 

Water company officials say the increases are necessary to cover rising operating costs and infrastructure improvements, but Tebben said the amounts are likely over-inflated because the ICC usually reduces the requested amount of raises.

 

"This is a game they play," Tebben said. "Illinois American Water is creating an argument for more than they need because the Illinois Commerce Commission will whittle it down."

 

If the ICC doesn’t approve the entire request, Illinois American spokeswoman Karen Farris said, the water company will not cut its services.

 

"If it’s lower than what we propose, we’ll make adjustments internally," she said, but declined to elaborate.

 

Farris said no water company employees would be laid off.

 

Cities affected by any proposed rate increase can voice concerns to the ICC, the state’s utility regulator, Tebben said.

 

"If we chose to make an appearance before the Illinois Commerce Commission, it will be my suggestion that we ban together with Peoria," and other communities, Tebben said. "We can be more convincing if we do it collectively."

 

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said he is unsure if the Peoria City Council will formally oppose the requested increase.

 

"It’s kind of early to tell if the city will get involved with filing anything formally," Ardis said, because the process for requesting an increase usually takes about 11 months.

 

But Ardis said the city will remain aware of the situation.

 

"We’ll be monitoring this very closely," he said.

 

The last time the water company requested an increase was in 2002.

 

If approved, the increase would mean $5.24 more each month for Peoria customers, which is about 17 cents a day. It would mean $5.64 more each month for Pekin customers, about 19 cents a day.

 

Farris said currently, the average bill is $20.98 in Pekin and $31.28 in Peoria, based on an average water usage of 6,000 gallons per month.

 

"That’s only $5 a month (more after an increase)," Farris said.

 

But Tebben said the small individual amount adds up to big money when it’s applied to every water customer in Pekin.

 

"That’s $1 million a year leaving the local economy," Tebben said. "That’s a significant economic impact."

 

Pekin City Manager Dennis Kief said residents on a fixed income and some senior citizens would be impacted the most by an increase.

 

"An over-25 percent increase is going to be pretty significant," Kief said.

 

Ardis agreed.

 

"It definitely hurts people on a fixed income. It hits them harder," Ardis said. "We definitely don’t want to see our constituents or taxpayers being unfairly charged for their utilities."

 

Farris said the water company has a rate relief program called Project H20 that helps low-income customers pay their bill in conjunction with the Salvation Army.

 

The program assists about 80 families a year in Peoria with approximately $8,000 in funds, Farris said.
Customers can donate between $1 and $99 on their monthly water bill to support the program.

 

Pekin tried to seize its water district in 2001 but the effort failed.

 

Peoria has debated purchasing the water company in the past, but has voted against buying the utility. Every five years, the city has the option to buy the water company, which will come up again in 2008.

 

Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or ksampier@pjstar.com.