LOOGOOTEE – Mayor Noel Harty and Loogootee City Council members anticipate an angry reaction from many utility customers over proposed rate increases of between 15 and 49 percent.
The council met in special session Wednesday to review a rate study for both the water utility and sewage works. The two studies, totaling 39 pages, were emailed to Loogootee Clerk-Treasurer Carol Harder just after the meeting started by John Seever, a partner in accounting firm Baker Tilley Municipal Advisors, Indianapolis.
For each study, the firm used an average residential bill based on 4,000 gallons, which was $47.51 for sewage and $31.54 for water.
Baker Tilley proposed two sewage rate increases: 15% or an average of $7.13 per month and 26% or an average of $12.35 per month.
For the water utility, the firm proposed three rate increases: 39% or $12.29 per month average, 47% or $14.81 monthly, or 49% or $15.43 monthly.
Loogootee has not increased its water rate since 2002 or its sewage rate since 2012. Three years ago the city did establish its first-ever stormwater monthly fee of $6 per residence.
The rate study was based on costs and funding for eight sewage and five water projects, which Public Works Superintendent Bo Wilson said were essential for the city for the future. The study also included engineering costs, as estimated by Midwestern Engineers, Loogootee.
If the sewage projects are ultimately approved by the council, the city will use a $760,000 Community Crossing grant from the state. The estimated project cost would be $6,503,100 if the city is able to land a $700,000 Indiana Department of Transportation grant. If not, the projected cost would be $6,513,100.
As for the water utility, the projected cost would be $2,630,000, and city would not receive any grants
Seever did not attend the meeting in person, but talked to Harty and the council members by way of the mayor’s smart phone. If the council does decide to raise rates, he said they could do it gradually over several years or “tear the bandage off” and do it all at one time.
None of the council members were happy with the proposed rate increases, but Tim Lawrence was especially vocal.
“Some people won’t be able to handle” a double-digit increase, he said, pointing out that many Loogootee residents are older and on fixed incomes.
During the June 8 meeting, the council members will look to cut costs on the proposed projects. Two of the sewage projects are erecting a chemical feed equipment and pole barn, as well as a new maintenance building. Lawrence, Wilson and others said those buildings could be erected without the use of an engineer, which would save money.
The original time frame proposed by Baker Tilley had the council voting on a bond ordinance to fund the projects at the June 8 meeting. That will now be postponed until later in the month or July 13, because the council members will be debating the merits of the proposed projects on June 8.
“It’s better to do it right than to do it fast,” Seever said.
At the May 13 council meeting, Wilson reported the city’s wastewater system hit 96 percent capacity in March due to an overabundance of rain. In April, it only hit 46 percent, which is more normal.
Two of the sewage projects, totaling about $2 million, deal with stormwater improvements. Wilson said it is crucial for Loogootee to improve its stormwater infrastructure to prevent the system from going above 100 percent. That would put the city in violation of state law and could result in penalties from the Indiana Department of Enviromental Management.