Residents in Calumet City continue to be upset about increases in water rates and related fees that are having a disproportionate impact on working families.
“I am a single mom and sometimes my kids do not eat because I have to pay my water bill,” said Maria Santoya, who lives in Calumet City and works a minimum wage job as a baker in Oak Park.
She said she is barely able to put food on her table.
Santoya was one of more than 60 residents who attended a recent Calumet City Council meeting to protest the higher rates and what they called unreasonable late fees and payment schedules.
“The water bill used to come out every three months and we have 14 days before a late fee is charged,” said Santoya in an interview following the October council meeting.
In 2014 the City Council voted to raise water rates to $6.60 per 1,000 gallons, up from the previous rate of $3.34 per 1,000 gallons, almost doubling the rate.
“Now we pay monthly and we only have five days to pay before a $35 late charge is applied,” Santoya said.
Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said the city has received 226 complaints about the water bill increase and she vowed to hold more community forums to address the issue.
“We are working to have more community forums, so we can fix the water increase,” she said during the meeting.
Qualkinbush said residents need to take advantage of free water inspections to make sure there are no leaking faucets, toilets or showers in their homes.
Julia Gonzales, an accountant for the Cook County Jail, has been a resident of Calumet City for over 17 years, and she said she is disgusted with the water and property tax increase.
“With the water and property tax increase I cannot handle it as a single mom of five children,” Gonzalez said. “Oh my God, I cannot handle the increase. Instead of buying food for my kids I have to pay bills.”
“I may stay here one more year and then I’m moving to Indiana,” Gonzalez said.
Dwight Charles, a railroad conductor in Chicago, also objected to the 20 percent tax increase.
“My property taxes went from $3,500 a year to $6,500 a year,” Charles said. “Even though I make decent money, I cannot afford to live here anymore.”
“My question is how are we going to stop the property tax from increasing any further?” Charles asked.
Maria Sanchez is a stay-at-home mom and her husband works a minimum wage job.
“I am frustrated because most of us are Latinos and we are being hit the hardest because we are the ones with the lowest paying jobs,” Sanchez told council members.
“Can someone please help us find a solution so we can survive in our community?”
Christian Zamarron, a labor organizer for the Immigrant Worker’s Project, met with many residents after the meeting to help them resolve the water and property tax increases.
“I am trying to figure out where the late fees are going and why the sudden increase,” Zamarron said.
“Calumet City and Lansing get their water supply from Hammond, Indiana, yet Lansing is not being charged the late fees or an increase in property tax.”