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Mayor Touts Water Fee as Homegrown Stimulus Plan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Increased water fees will put 18,000 people to work in upgrading city's water infrastructure, some of which dates back 100 years or more, says Emanuel.

    Increased water fees may not be everyone's cup of tea, but neither are flooded basements, crumbling streets and vehicle axles broken by potholes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday in spinning his fee increase as a homegrown stimulus plan.

    A massive upgrade of the city's water system, paid for with increased sewer and water fees, will create thousands of jobs, he said.

    "It will be the largest infrastructure project initiated for a city, by a city," said Emanuel, indicating that 18,000 jobs would be created by the project throughout the next 10 years.

    Crews will upgrade 1,000 miles of water mains, 750 miles of sewer lines and 140,000 catch basins, he said. Some of the pipes date back a century or more.

    While they're underground, they'll also lay the foundation for improved broadband Internet access.

    Suburbanites, said Emanuel, won't be spared. Their reliance on city water means they'll help pay for about 47 percent projects. The Daily Herald on Friday broke down specifically how several suburbs would be affected.

    "It's an investment that's long overdue in Chicago, and it's time we do it," he said at a press event set beside a water and road construction project in the 2100 block of South Lawndale Avenue.

    The mayor's budget proposal, unveiled Wednesday, calls for a $120 annual increase in water and sewer rates for an average household in 2012. Rates would increase incrementally through 2015. Homeowners can avoid much of the hike if they opt to install a free water meter, but many people have expressed privacy concerns with the system.

    The city currently charges $2.01 per every 1,000 gallons of water. The budget calls for increasing the fee to $2.51 in 2012, to $2.89 in 2013, to $3.32 in 2014 and to $3.82 in 2015.

    The fees, the administration said, would generate about $147 million in revenue.