Proposed Water Rate Hike for Columbia City

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin


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March 8, 2012 Updated Mar 9, 2012 at 12:26 AM EDT

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Columbia City officials held a public hearing to gain feedback on the proposed 37 percent water rate hike.

Recently, Indiana’s NewsCenter reported about Fort Wayne City Utilities increasing water rates to 40 percent over three years. Columbia City is now following suit, proposing an increase of 37 percent.

The Columbia City Municipal Water Utility, along with the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), held a public hearing to get feedback from residents.

OUCC is a state agency that acts as a liaison, representing consumer interests. The IURC was present to accept verbal and written comments for case records.

Columbia City Mayor, Ryan Daniel, says the last rate increase happened in 2006, but now they need to raise the rates to fulfill a $2 million bond.

“The last rate increase took into account growth, and obviously growth within the economy has not happened,” said Mayor Daniel.

Two-thirds of the bond will go toward inflation and compensation for a decrease in water consumption, and a third will go toward water system maintenance.

A customer who uses 5,000 gallons of water a month in Columbia City now pays $23.70. The rate hike will increase that monthly bill to $32.46—close to a $6 increase.

“When you break it down that’s only a few water bottles a month,” Mayor Daniel said. “We’re not insensitive to the economy is what it is, but at the same time we have to make sure that we have a solvent water utility.”

Terry Smith made a verbal comment at the hearing. Smith lives just north of Columbia City, but owns a commercial property within the city limits. He says senior citizens have faced enough financial burdens between inflation on food, prescription drugs, and gasoline, and health insurance premiums, to take on another one.

“We used to hear arguments about how seniors had to choose between buying food to eat and drugs to stay alive,” Smith said. “Now we are hearing arguments that seniors won't be able to afford to pour themselves a glass of water to take their pills that they can't afford to buy since they can't afford the gas to take them to the pharmacy or to the grocery store.”

Mayor Daniel says the water utility is the only rate increase Columbia City residents are facing. But Smith says the rate increase is unjustified. He pointed out a city fund with a mandatory balance that had been overdrawn before last year’s elections, and how City Council gave all its employees and the mayor a pay increase.

“This sounds to me like mismanagement if not downright incompetence,” said Smith. “Where did the money go that was in the overdrawn account? Can it be replaced without a rate increase? City employees should not be living off the senior citizens and the rest of us are just sick and tired of tax increases that line the pockets of politicians and their crony friends. I am taxed enough already and I don’t want to be taxed anymore.”

“Obviously this is going to affect everybody and we’re all going to have to have an increased rate,” said Mayor Daniel. “I hate to do that during the time period that we’re in right now, but I think it’s the best thing for us to do.”

Other residents commented tonight, simply asking if the increase could be phased-in over two to three years, instead of all at once. Since there are more steps to be taken before approval, there’s a possibility the increase could be spread over time. Mayor Daniels says he hopes the rate increase will take effect by the end of the year.

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