Decisions are made by those who…

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Like most of the Midwest, Champaign-Urbana residents spent the holiday weekend grappling with bitter, cold weather that drove the temperature down to the single digits and the wind chill even lower. For many, this meant finally turning on the heat in our apartments. But soon, we’ll be hit with a bill that could make even Jack Frost shiver.

As many are aware, 2007 saw contentious negotiations between the state of Illinois and the power companies that serve most of its residents. After months of discussion, an agreement to remove the decade-old rate freeze in exchange for customer rebates was finally passed in the fall. Part of the lackluster agreement, which only partially rolled back the rate increases, was that the Illinois Commerce Commission had to approve any future rate raise.

In November, Ameren applied to the commission to once again raise its electric rates in the name of improving customer service and offsetting increased delivery costs. In response, the commission will be holding a series of forums across the state to gather input about Ameren’s request. But the Champaign-Urbana area will take another hit in the wallet if Ameren has its way.

In August, Illinois American Water filed an application to the commission to raise water rates by nearly 60 percent in this area. The company says that most of this increase will go to pay for the construction of a new water treatment plant that is being built west of Champaign.

But students and community members have several opportunities to air their concerns to the company when it holds the first of several public forums about its new plans Tuesday at the Urbana Civic Center at 7 p.m.

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While everyone will certainly complain about their water bills going up should the increase be approved, it’s likely that most of them will not take the time to get involved from the beginning either by attending this forum or contacting our local government leaders.

As the Illinois primary election approaches, it’s important for voters to be involved in all aspects of the policy process, instead of merely being content to criticize it after the fact. To do otherwise will only reinforce perceptions that citizens are apathetic and will not actively fight for their interests.

Illinois American Water estimates that if its plans are approved, the average customer (including students renting apartments) will see his water bill increase by nearly $14 monthly. For a 12-month lease, that adds up to approximately $160 more a year to wash your dishes, take a shower and cook.

Surely, that’s enough incentive to attend a meeting.