Chesterton Tribune

Porter Town Council approves 30 percent sewer rate hike

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By PAULENE POPARAD

PORTER -- 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 2008.

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 maintenance.

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 something.”

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 installed.

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.

 

Posted 8/27/2008