Chicago Heights pitches its rate case in federal court

2012-11-05T17:31:00Z 2012-11-06T11:00:04Z Chicago Heights pitches its rate case in federal courtChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

SOUTH BEND | Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez said Monday in federal court that paying the rate Hammond is proposing to charge for its water would significantly impact his community.

“People can’t pay their bills as it is right now,” Gonzalez testified.

Businesses may also pull out of the area if the water rate increases, Gonzalez said.

Chicago Heights is requesting a federal judge issue a preliminary injunction barring Hammond from shutting off its water and continuing service at the current rate until either the federal court or state regulators decide a new rate.

At issue was how the federal court proceeding relates to a separate case Chicago Heights has filed against Hammond before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The IURC will hold a hearing Friday in Indianapolis.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio took the matter under advisement Monday after the three-hour hearing and said he would issue a ruling before Monday when the 30-year contract expires between the two cities.

Lawyers representing Hammond argued DeGuilio should hold off on ruling on the injunction and schedule a status conference for February to gauge where proceedings are at with the IURC. Issuing an injunction may take Chicago Heights off the "hot seat" in terms of finding alternative sources for water, said Scott Chinn, a lawyer representing Hammond.

Gonzalez said he knew Chicago Heights wouldn’t keep paying its current rate in a new contract with Hammond.

But Gonzalez said he didn’t know until July that Hammond would request a rate increase based on the Chicago market. Hammond wants Chicago Heights to pay an increased rate of $2.20 per 1,000 gallons, which is less than what Chicago charges but up from the current rate of 57.5 cents.

Ed Krusa, head of the Hammond Water Works Department, said at no time during negotiations did he indicate that a new rate would solely be based on the cost to provide water.

Gonzalez said Chicago Heights doesn’t have alternative plans for its water. The most readily available source is well water with an implementation time of at least three years.

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