City Council Still Doesn't Approve Water Rate Hike

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

February 14, 2012 Updated Feb 15, 2012 at 12:41 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The wait continues. City Utilities officials proposed extending the 40 percent water rate increase to three years, instead of two. But, City Council wants to wait another week before approval.

It will have to wait another week. At Tuesday night’s public City Council meeting, City Utilities officials came up with a way to lessen the blow for city water customers when it comes to that 40 percent water rate hike. City Utilities Director, Kumar Menon, proposed extending the rate over three years, instead of two.

The average water customer pays $17.25 plus tax for 5,000 gals. of water. With the original proposal, customers would pay $3 more in 2013, and $4 more in 2014. The new proposal suggests customers pay $3.85 more in 2013, $1.85 in 2014, and $1.15 in 2015. That equals $6.85 more over three years. Menon says the first year will be the hardest hit on residents because the city needs to pay back bonds and meet other financial obligations.

“It was a question of affordability. We know that we are just now seeing daylight, and we do not want to impose rates that are excessive. We want to make sure that we still stay affordable,” said Menon.

Menon says the only other downside is because of the smaller amounts, fewer water mains will be repaired at a time. Menon says the city have to repair 12 mi. of pipe a year in order to catch up to all the hundreds of water mains that need repairing—some dating back to the 1920’s.

“It will just take us a little longer to catch-up,” Menon said. “It’s like driving a car. You can drive it for six more months, one more year, you can stretch it out a little bit longer, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

City officials say there were proposals to update water mains in the 1980’s and 90’s, but it didn’t happen. Now, those repairs are “coming back to bite us,” said Menon.

But, despite the 40 percent increase, Menon says water is still the most affordable utility in Allen County, one of the lowest in the northeast region, and in the bottom third in the state.

But, Council members still do not approve. They postponed approving the water rate increase by another week. Council was unable to formally vote on the matter, since City Utilities did not prepare a written proposal. Also, several members suggested looking into using money from other city funds, like Pilot, CIB, TIF and Legacy funds, to assist in the water main repairs. Council members say it could be another way to cut taxpayers a break.

“We expect the [Henry] Administration to use these accumulated funds to provide some relief to people who’ve been hammered by this Recession and people who are wondering how they’re going to pay their water bill,” said Mitch Harper, R—4th District.

Menon says he understands the concern for taxpayer dollars, but he fears if they wait for Council approval any longer, it will delay the entire rate increase process. According to Menon, it takes the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission (IURC), nine months to a year for final approval, but the city cannot move on until Council makes a decision. City Council and City Utilities officials plan to meet next week, and hopefully approve the increase.

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