By PAULENE POPARAD
After briefly considering cutting it in half, the Porter Town Council voted
4-1 Tuesday to approve a 30-percent increase in sanitary sewer rates now.
Without it, the sewer utility is estimated to post a $349,000 shortfall in
An additional 30-percent jump tentatively is proposed for the end of 2009 to
guarantee repayment of a planned $4 million revenue-bond sale for mandated
upgrades to the town’s long-neglected sewage collection system and lift
stations. The town is under an agreed order with the Indiana Department of
Environmental Management to bring the system into compliance.
During a public hearing last night on the first rate hike, only resident
Jennifer Klug spoke in favor. No one spoke in opposition. “No one likes to
pay more for anything but in order to fix our sewer system and comply with
IDEM, it has to be done,” she said.
A typical residential customer will see their monthly $40.51 sewer bill,
based on 5,000 gallons of usage, go to $52.81 this year and next year to
$68.52 if the combined 60-percent increase is adopted. Porter last raised
sewer rates by 33 percent in 2005 to keep pace with a rate increase from
Chesterton, which processes Porter’s sewage.
Porter’s initial 30-percent rate hike this year anticipates a jump in its
treatment rates from Chesterton, but officials there after proposing a
14-percent rate increase tabled the matter Monday for more study. Porter
Councilman Jon Granat said if Porter accumulates money awaiting Chesterton’s
rate hike, “We’d be able to do more projects quicker.”
But Porter Councilman Micheal Genger, the lone no vote on the rate increase
there, said Porter needs to get solid numbers of its own and he doesn’t
support collecting more money than necessary to do future projects.
Porter council members briefly discussed whether to do a 15-percent rate
increase now and 45 percent in 2009, or even 15 percent in each of 2008-09
and 30 percent in 2010. But financial consultant Damon Tsouklis of Cender &
Company LLC said even if he backs out a Chesterton rate increase from his
calculations, Porter needs more money for its own sewer operations and
Tuesday, the Town Council authorized Public Works superintendent Brenda
Brueckheimer to promote a part-time summer laborer who’s been performing
sewer-related tasks to a full-time sewer employee. Two more will need to be
added eventually under the town’s IDEM compliance plan.
Councilman Dave Babcock said Porter faces heavy fines if it doesn’t comply
with IDEM’s mandates. “We don’t have the luxury of doing anything but this.
We have to get our system up to snuff. We have to have money to do
Councilman Bill Sexton, attending his last meeting before his resignation
becomes effective, said, “Technically, we need to do a 30/30 (percent rate
increase). If we do 15 (percent) we’re only fooling ourselves.” Porter has to
be on sound financial footing before it sells the 2009 bonds, he added.
Genger said Porter has $270,000 in its Rainy Day Fund and he’d rather take
money from there to offset sewer shortfalls than make residents pay.
Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy discouraged that because the town is
anticipating a $100,000 budget cut in 2009 as the first year of Indiana’s
property-tax circuitbreaker goes into effect, and rainy-day funds would be
needed to cover shortfalls in the general fund.
Tsouklis also recommended against raiding the Rainy Day Fund. The price of
road salt has skyrocketed, he noted, and money may be needed for that this
winter. “Either you salt and pay for it or not salt.”
Sexton said rainy-day savings have been used for interfund loans to keep the
town running and employees paid while awaiting overdue property-tax
distributions from Porter County. Having the rainy-day money available
allowed Porter to avoid taking bank loans with interest like some government
units have been forced to do, he added.
Babcock moved to approve a 30-percent increase this year on final reading;
the ordinance had been introduced on first reading Aug. 12. Separate action
will be needed on next year’s rate increase.
In related sewer action, the council approved the $13,114 purchase from Fluid
Thermal Systems for additional metering equipment for the Beam Street,
Triangle Trail, Cardinal Court and 23rd Street lift stations that will
transmit over the Internet flow data that’s updated hourly.
Twelve meters are installed in manholes to collect data, said Brueckheimer,
and a third contract will be presented to the council Sept. 9 for
IDEM-mandated equipment for meter pits. Eventually the town engineer, Public
Works, IDEM and Chesterton Utility will be able to track unwanted groundwater
infiltration in Porter’s manhole system because of the metering being
Brueckheimer also said the third of three pumps at the main Porter Avenue
lift station is out to be rebuilt with the upgrade of the first two pumps
having gone smoothly. She said the lack of rain has helped during the work.