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City Council committee votes down "Water For All" ordinance to halt water shutoffs, expand billing relief

Aldermen vote down "Water For All" billing relief plan
Aldermen vote down "Water For All" billing relief plan 00:32

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Aldermen on Tuesday voted down a proposal to make permanent the city's ban on water shutoffs, while expanding utility billing relief programs, after the Lightfoot administration expressed concerns with the cost of the program, and claimed deadlines set by the ordinance would be impossible to meet.

The City Council Environmental Protection Committee voted 5-8 on the so-called "Water For All" ordinance sponsored by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who was forced to use a rare parliamentary maneuver to schedule a vote on his proposal after it had been allowed to languish in the committee for more than a year.

Meantime, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has put forth her own ordinance to achieve many of the same goals, but her proposal was shuttled to the council's Rules Committee last month, and must be reassigned to another committee before it can get a vote.

La Spata's proposal seeks to expand utility billing relief programs that offer assistance to low-income families that struggle to pay city water bills. The ordinance also would make permanent a ban on shutting off Chicago residents' water service due to non-payment of bills, and would prohibit the city from privatizing its water system.

While no aldermen spoke out against La Spata's ordinance before Tuesday's vote, several members of the Lightfoot administration raised concerns about how to pay for some of the measures within the ordinance, as well as the city's ability to meet various deadlines it would set.

Water Commissioner Andrea Cheng said the department agrees with La Spata's goal of making water more affordable for low-income residents, but said the city simply can't meet many of the deadlines the ordinance would set for implementing various billing changes, calling some of the ordinance's stated goals "physically impossible."

Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said a credit of up to $3,000 that would be offered to eligible water customers could cost the city up to $1 billion.

With La Spata's ordinance being voted down on Tuesday, it's unclear if or when Lightfoot's own proposal will come up for a vote.

While the mayor's office also would seek to permanently halt water shutoffs for non-payment, and prohibit privatization of the city's water system, unlike La Spata's, it would not expand the city's utility billing relief program.

Rather, the mayor's ordinance would focus on speeding up installation of water meters in non-metered properties, to halt the practice of basing those water bills on estimated usage.

Over four years -- the CBS 2 Investigators have profiled dozens of Chicagoans who were billed thousands of dollars for water they either couldn't or didn't use, or were billed using a guess of use that was way off.

One way to cut down on guesstimates is adding meters.


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