ELWOOD — There seemed to be a painful consensus by both residents and officials that a water and sewage rate increase was necessary. But all parties wanted to make sure the increases were used wisely.
Elwood City Council unanimously approved a project for a new water treatment plant that will cost the community about $7 million and will increase sewer and water utility rates. The vote for approval came at the council meeting Monday night at Elwood High School.
Elwood Mayor Ron Arnold said the city was prepared to spend about $10 million for the project and through a stringent research process actually saved some money.
"We can assure you this is the very best we can do for you," Arnold told the people in attendance. The council moved the meeting to the high school in anticipation of heavy attendance, but fewer than 50 residents showed up.
Those who did expressed some concern about the rate increases, but most said they understood the project needs to be done. Under the Clean Water Acts, combined sewer systems like the ones Elwood uses are no longer allowed and must be updated. According to Triad, the engineering firm hired by the city to undertake the project, the current plant was built in the 1940s and the newest equipment was updated in the 1970s.
The problem with combined sewer systems is they bring both stormwater and wastewater together through one system, and during rainy weather the volume can overload the system. This leads to polluting of local water supplies — Duck Creek and Little Duck Creek in Elwood's case.
"It's really a public health and safety issue," said Buzz Krohn, accountant for the city.
The system is in need of change. But residents want to make sure the money going toward the project through raised rates will be used solely for the project. It was a concern echoed by Councilman Todd Jones.
"If we're going to burden our ratepayers with a rate increase, we want to be fiscally responsible with that," Jones said.
The project will have two phases: Phase 1 will increase sewer rates of average customers from $28.33 a month to $34.99 a month. It will also increase water utility rates for average customers from $26.67 a month to $29.44 a month. Phase 2, expected to start at the beginning of 2014, will bring another rate increase, according to estimates from Triad.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the rate increases and give residents an idea of what will happen in the coming months with their bills. A follow-up meeting with more details on the new plant is planned for later in the year.
Officials also noted there is a sense of urgency to get underway on the project because of the state requirement that the system be updated. Krohn said if the city doesn't move forward aggressively, it risks a sewer ban, which imposes economic growth sanctions.
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