City Council Approves $20M Filtration Project and Police Contracts

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

December 20, 2011 Updated Dec 21, 2011 at 4:55 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) -- Fort Wayne City Council approved the $20M water filtration project and new police contracts Tuesday night. The Council President is concerned the project is not "of good value" to Fort Wayne citizens.

The $20M water filtration project may not completely benefit the citizens of Fort Wayne the way it was originally designed to. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered a Federal mandate to cities that get their water supply from rivers. The mandate requires Fort Wayne to upgrade the water filtration system by adding an ultraviolet light filter. The UV light filter is supposed to protect water sources from certain contaminates—contaminates council members say the city’s never had problems with. City Council President, Mitch Harper, 4th District, said it could cause more harm than good.

“I’m not sure the EPA requirement is something that is of good value to our citizens,” Harper said.

Harper said the project will be paid for in-part by consumer water rates and with money from the water main replacement fund, leaving less money to pay for more potential repairs. Harper said a smaller amount of water mains will need replacing, therefore, they will need to be replaced more often.

“It's going to be changed from replacing five miles per year, which only puts us to a 200 year replacement level, to two and half miles, which takes us to a 400 year replacement level,” Harper said. “With a city that’s never had a problem with our drinking water, from the things the ultraviolet filters are to address, broken water mains can allow contamination into the system and require flushing.”

Harper said the city is already behind on water main repairs. He said it's common for northern cities to have a large number of water main breaks every year, but he fears the deficit in the replacement fund will ultimately affect the city's water distribution. Contractors said the UV filter system will be in place by summer.

But, while one city official is concerned, another said he is relieved. The council also approved a new contract for police officers. Fort Wayne Police Chief, Rusty York, said the 460 current and couple hundred retired officers will receive a 1.5 percent compensation raise for 2010 and a percent increase for 2011. Overall officers will get a 2.5 percent pay raise through 2012, and will have to renew contracts for 2013. Officers have not seen a raise since 2008, and York said he hopes to renew contracts every few years.

“When you have a contract that hasn't been resolved in two years—that’s not good. So, we're there now and going forward. We're real happy that we've got this behind us,” York said.

York said a fear of rising tax premiums delayed the contractual agreements.

“It all goes down to the health insurance issue. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association was the only contract that had premium caps. The officers understood that if they negotiated a new contract, those caps would go away. Meaning that those premiums could possibly go higher than 15 percent,” York said.

York said the city put together a premium package that did not exceed 15 percent, and that helped to instill trust in the officers and lower their anxiety levels.

“This plan not only affects the officers, it affects the whole city and the city did a good job of putting this whole thing together for us,” York said.

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