CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that he is actively going after $15 million in unpaid water bills owed to the city by four Chicago suburbs.
He also promised to take another look at free water that the city supplies to various non-profit groups.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reported on Wednesday that the Better Government Association uncovered the delinquent bills, which surprised suburban taxpayers who thought they were paying for that water.
Harvey owes Chicago $6.2 million, Robbins owes $6.1 million, Dolton owes $1.7 million and Maywood owes $1.6 million.
But in addition to the $15 million the BGA found in unpaid bills, CBS 2 found another $19 million in water usage that was never billed. Emanuel said that is going to stop.
“We can’t ask the taxpayers to underwrite that given all the challenges we face as a city,” Emanuel said at an unrelated press conference.
The Mayor promised to reveal how he’ll do that when he releases his 2012 budget plan next month. Right now, private hospitals, private schools, private museums, and religious institutions may request free water – and many get it.
Right now, only the largest of those institutions, like the University of Chicago Hospitals, pay for at least some of the water they use.
“Why are you asking? This is private information,” a spokesman said in response to questions about the issue.
Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who chairs the City Council Finance Committee, said “There has to be a re-evaluation of all this, there is no doubt in my mind. We just don’t have the luxury anymore of sitting back and not collecting every dime that we can.”
Burke discussed the millions of dollars in unpaid water bills from Chicago’s suburbs and free water supplied by the city outside the Art Institute, which he has criticized for raising admission fees, while at the same time taking free water from the city.
But Burke admitted being surprised at what CBS 2 and the BGA found in the suburbs.
Asked how to deal with the suburbs who owe the city millions despite collecting water fees from suburban homeowners, Emanuel said, “I’ve already weeks ago talked to Amir Ahmed, who is the city comptroller and revenue collector, to deal with the fact that … the taxpayers of the city of Chicago are owed around $15 million dollars and (the city is) putting in place already a process of collecting that money.”
Emanuel said he sent Water Management Commissioner Thomas Powers to Dolton on Thursday to try to negotiate some kind of payment plan.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports