CHICAGO (CBS) — Robert Bane and his family were excited when they moved into their new home in McHenry this spring, but when they got the first water bill about a month later, they were shocked.

“Found out that there is a $60 a month base fee that I’m paying monthly before I even use any water,” he said.

Confused, Bane asked his new neighbors about the bill.

“My neighbor, he pays close to $25 a month, which is less than half. I talked to other neighbors, as well. They pay the same as him,” Bane said.

His family isn’t using more water than neighbors.

“They’re not getting whacked like I am,” he said.

Instead, his sky-high bills are the fault of the service pipe for his water meter. Bane’s water company — Utilities, Inc. – told him he’s being charged a $60 service fee because the pipe leading to his water meter is 1-inch wide. His neighbors have half-inch pipes, so they pay half as much in fees.

Bane, who works as a plumber, tried for days to find a solution.

“Obviously I was willing to do anything. I would change the meter, provide my own,” he said.

Utilities, Inc., told him he could lower the fee as long as he could use a smaller meter, but Bane said state regulations require his house to have a 1-inch meter.

Now Bane and his family try to reduce water usage however they can; from washing hands while doing dishes to letting flowers in their yard go unwatered.

No matter how much they cut back, that $60 service fee isn’t going anywhere.

“The usage is what it is, but I mean right off the bat, if I went out of town, I’d be charged $60 even if I didn’t use the water for the month,” Bane said.

Utilities, Inc., said their fees are “industry standard.”

 

CBS 2 checked with 10 cities across the Chicago area – Chicago, Arlington Heights, Carpentersville, Chicago Heights, Crystal Lake, Harvard, Markham, Momence, Wheaton, and Wilmington – to find out if they charge similar rates. Chicago, Markham, and Momence don’t charge any service fee. Of those cities that do, it’s often far less than the fees charged by Utilities, Inc.:

 

  • Arlington Heights says its service fees usually range from $5 to $6 per month;
  • Chicago heights charges $4 per month;
  • Wilmington charges $8.63;
  • Crystal Lake charges $10;
  • Carpentersville charges $10.68 to $15.26;
  • Harvard charges $19;
  • Wheaton charges $13.59 to $27.18.

“That fee is crazy that we’re paying,” Bane said.

His family feels like the 1-inch water pipe for their meter has become the bane of their existence.

“Please resolve the issue. I would just like to be treated like everybody else, and drop the base fee to what everybody else is paying,” he said.

Utilities, Inc., refused to say what could justify their steep fees.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates water service providers, said Utilities, Inc., charges such high rates “because they are making a number of needed system upgrades.