April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Hope officials to protest water rate hike

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Hope officials are planning to protest against a proposed rate hike by the town's water provider and they are urging the public to make their voices heard also.

While the town of Hope once operated wells around the community, it now purchases all of its water from Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp.

And Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. has requested a nearly 50 percent increase in its water rates so that it can make $7.7 million in improvements to the water system. According to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, the bill would rise from the current $22.83 a month to $33.77 a month for a customer using 5,000 gallons of water -- a 47.9 percent increase.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor has requested comments from the public and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will consider the proposed rate hike and system improvements at a meeting set for June 28th in Indianapolis.

David Clouse, the Hope Utilities manager, says that those increases would be passed directly on to Hope customers.

Clouse said traditionally the regulators will not approve such a large increase.

"The utility regulatory commission will knock that down quite a bit," Clouse said. "The attorney that is doing that knows that he is going to get whittled down so they ask for a big number hoping that it is going to be what they need, when they make that decision."

Clouse said that Hope customers would see the rate increase as a new line on their water bills. He estimated that the cost of water makes up about two thirds of people's combined water and sewer bills.

Town Manger J.T. Doane said that he and Clouse are planning to attend the June meeting in Indianapolis, to argue against the proposed rate increase by Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp.

But he also encouraged the public to make their opinions known.

"There is a way for the public that have concerns, and want to talk and to voice their concerns with this consideration, they have an avenue to do that," Doane said. "In fact, it is welcome."

"I want to encourage all of our residents to please, contact this office (of Utility Consumer Counselor) send them an e-mail, write them and put your concerns in there."

The deadline for written comments is May 9th.

Hope water customers have already seen recent hikes in their bills, due to the costs of the recently completed water system improvement projects and a need to shore up the town water utility's budget. In 2015, the Town Council approved water rate hikes that nearly doubled the water costs for customers immediately, with a further increase set for when the $2.9 million water system improvement project was nearly finished. That final increase was to be offset in part by grants and refundable loans from the state. Clouse said that second increase has not gone into effect yet because the financial impact of the water system improvements are still being calculated.

Clouse said the big variable in the projected second increase was based on how much the town would save by not having as much water leaking out of the aging pipes in the system. He said that he is estimating the town is saving 32,800 gallons of water a day.

The average Hope water bill runs $50 to $80 a month, Clouse said.

The town is also considering a new town-wide trash collection service, which, if approved, would also be added to the water bills. The town received bids on Friday from three companies interested in providing the trash service. The exact amounts of the bids are not available until they have been reviewed and presented to the Town Council, but the companies estimated about a $15 a month charge to customers for the new service. That is depending on what services the town provides when it negotiates a contract.

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