Federal judge issues stay in Chicago Heights water lawsuit

2012-11-08T20:00:00Z 2012-11-10T00:25:16Z Federal judge issues stay in Chicago Heights water lawsuitChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Chicago Heights' quest to pay less than what Hammond is planning to charge for water is in the hands of Indiana regulators — at least for now.

A federal judge decided Thursday to postpone ruling on Chicago Heights' request for a preliminary injunction. The injunction would have required Hammond to keep charging the current rate of 57.5 cents per 1,000 gallons for water until either the federal court or the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission decides a new rate.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the court's order was a win for Hammond, though he expects a prolonged fight.

“We won the first round,” McDermott said. “This is not over by any stretch. We have a long way to go.”

Hammond has pledged to keep providing Chicago Heights with water until March after the 30-year contract between the two cities expires Monday, but at the increased rate of $2.20 per 1,000 gallons.

TJ Somer, Chicago Heights corporation counsel, said the case seems to have taken a logical step forward.

“I think it's consistent of what he said he was going to do at the court hearing,” Somer said of Thursday's order.

McDermott said Hammond still wants to charge less for water than the $3.30 per 1,000 gallons rate Chicago Heights currently charges its residents.

“Our increase that takes effect Nov. 12 doesn't need to be passed down to residents of Chicago Heights,” said McDermott, contending the Chicago Heights Water Department could absorb the increase.

Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez has sought to prove that the Illinois community's water services are not a profit center.

While Chicago Heights also provides water to four other Illinois communities, its water department operated at a $461,559 deficit in its last fiscal year, according to data Gonzalez provided to the court.

U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a stay in the federal court case pending the outcome of the petition Chicago Heights has filed with the IURC. Hammond has asked the IURC to dismiss the case, arguing that Indiana regulators have no jurisdiction.

If the IURC decides it does not have jurisdiction, the federal court case will move forward. Also, if state proceedings stall — placing Chicago Heights at risk of having its water cut off in March — the federal court's decision to hold off on the case will be reconsidered, according to the court order.

A preliminary hearing before the IURC, originally scheduled for today, was pushed back to Nov. 19.

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