Sandwich City Council to vote on water rate increase next month

Will help pay for improvements to aging water system

Sandwich residents are set to see a jump in their water bills to help pay for an estimated $72.6 million in improvements to its aging water system.

The Sandwich City Council is set to vote on the increase at its March 4 meeting. It would go into effect May 1.

Alderpersons were presented with a first reading of the proposed ordinance at their Feb. 19 Committee of the Whole Council meeting.

As proposed, the water service charge per quarter for Sandwich water users would increase from $3.02 per 1,000 gallons of water to $7.40 per 1,000 gallons of water

The minimum charge for water service only would increase from $5 per quarter to $20 per quarter. In addition, the rate for all water service by the city would increase by 4% for the billing period beginning May 1, 2025, and each subsequent May 1 unless altered by the City Council prior to April 1 of the same year.

“I know it’s quite a bit of a jump,” Sandwich Mayor Todd Latham said after the Feb. 19 meeting. “We take the big jump up front and have some money we can set aside to make the improvements. And then we can level off some of those payments to a more modest increase over time.”

“So you have one that’s over 100 years old and one that’s approaching 100 years old. That is extremely old when it comes to wells.”

—  Steve Dennison, vice president Engineering Enterprises

Latham said the proposal is similar to what the city did in recent years in adjusting its sewer rates to help pay for improvements to the city’s waste water treatment plant.

“Now we have a positive fund balance and we were able to make those improvements,” Latham said. “And this allows the same on the water side.”

An aging system

During the Dec. 18 Sandwich Committee of the Whole meeting, Engineering Enterprises Vice President Steve Dennison talked to City Council members about the improvements that need to be made to the system.

He told them the city’s water treatment plant on Railroad Street, which was constructed in 1939, is significantly past the date of its useful life, Dennison said.

“This is one of the older plants I’ve seen in northeast Illinois,” he said. “The ceiling is collapsing.”

In addition, he said the plant uses obsolete technology for the aeration of the water.

“It works, but only for a period of time,” Dennison said.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has recommended replacing the facility, he said. Dennison said the city’s second water treatment plant on Clark Street – which has been operational since 1993 – can be modified and expanded to accommodate the decommissioning of the Railroad Street plant.

Low water pressure on the city’s northwest side also is a concern. In addition, water mains have to be replaced.

Since 2016, the city has experienced more than 65 water main breaks, Dennison said.

Lead service pipes also need to be replaced. The city recently received a $40,000 grant to start identifying properties that have lead pipes.

The city’s two active sandstone wells also are in need of replacement because of their age. They were constructed between 1911 and 1939.

“So you have one that’s over 100 years old and one that’s approaching 100 years old,” Dennison told City Council members. “That is extremely old when it comes to wells. There’s no way around it. I don’t see wells that age very often that are still operable. … As you pump wells for a long period of time, you create situations where they will fail. That will happen at some point, we just don’t know when it will happen.”

The city’s third well is an emergency backup well that was constructed in 1946. The radium level from the well is above the maximum contaminant level, which is 5 picoCuries per liter.

“It’s over the regulatory limit, so it requires treatment,” Dennison said. “It can be turned on for short periods of time, but for consistent use, it will require treatment.”

City officials also are trying to make sure the water system is keeping up with the city’s growth. Sandwich is expected to grow from its current population of about 7,200 to about 13,000 by the year 2050.

Latham noted the city has $1.6 million in a reserve account, which won’t go far in funding the project.

“We can’t do a whole lot with that based on what we need,” he said. “So we’re going to have to be strategic about how we spend our money.”

The city also plans to apply for federal funding to help pay for the project.