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Oak Lawn votes to raise borrowing cap for water system upgrades by $30 million

The Oak Lawn Village Board approved two ordinances Tuesday to increase the town’s borrowing limit by $30 million as the cost for long planned water system upgrades continue to increase.

In 2013, the village agreed on several measures to improve Oak Lawn’s Regional Water System. Due to the rising costs of this upgrade, the board voted in 2021 to increase its borrowing authority from $240 million to $297 million.

The board’s action Tuesday increases the maximum amount of IEPA Series Bonds to $327 million to meet costs of the improvements to the existing regional system, according to the ordinance.

The upgrades include updating a decades old water system that is susceptible to main breaks, doubling the system’s capacity to 110 million gallons per day and reducing the energy used to transfer water by 15%, according to Oak Lawn officials.

The upgrades originally cost $171 million. But in the decade since this project was first planned, the price tag has increased significantly, pushing the board to allocate more borrowing.

Oak Lawn buys Lake Michigan water from Chicago and in turn, sells it to Chicago Ridge, Country Club Hills, Matteson, Mokena, New Lenox, Oak Forest, Olympia Fields, Orland Hills, Orland Park, Palos Hills, Palos Park and Tinley Park.

The vote Tuesday morning took place without debate or deliberation as all six trustees quickly voted in favor of increasing the borrowing limit. The board also agreed to a temprorary construction and permanent easement agreement with the Orland Elementary District 135 Board for a water transmission line.

Trustee Alex Olejniczak explained the water system upgrades remain vitally important, referencing almost two dozen water main breaks caused by the old infrastructure and the recent freezing temperatures.

“There are over 20 (main breaks) so far in the village,” he said. “Talking with our Public Works Director Bill Meyer, this morning he said ‘we’re at the point now where we’re keeping our head above water — literally.’”

Village Manager Thomas Phelan also announced Oak Lawn has been told its bond rating has risen from neutral to positive by agencies such as Standard & Poor’s. In recent years, in large part because of the town’s pension fund, the borrowing rating has dipped below neutral, he said.

“Will it result in significant savings on borrowings? Well, we probably aren’t going to see that,” said Phelan whose full time job is in wealth management. “But it is a good thing moving forward and something I think we all should be proud of.”

hsanders@chicagotribune.com