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Corydon residents provide feedback about proposed rate increases

Corydon residents provide feedback about proposed rate increases
Corydon residents provide feedback about proposed rate increases
Rand Heazlitt, Corydon town manager, talks Monday night at a public hearing at the Corydon Town Hall regarding proposed water and sewer rate increases. Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor
Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]

It was standing room only Monday night at the Corydon Town Hall during a public hearing regarding the town council’s proposed increases to its water and sewer rates.

Nearly two dozen people signed up to speak at the hearing. However, at the conclusion of the 45-minute hearing, only 15 had taken the opportunity to speak their mind or ask questions. The others had passed when their names were called, with some saying their concern had already been voiced.

To start the hearing, Eva Bates North, president of the town council, explained that those speaking would be given three minutes, with legal counsel Chris Byrd serving as the time keeper. Then, in hopes of answering some of the questions those in attendance might have, town manager Rand Heazlitt explained why the council was proposing the increases in the rates. He said the water rate had remained the same since 1997 and the sewer rate was last raised in 2010.

While the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management had “forced” some projects to be completed, Heazlitt said there are “significant” others that need to be addressed.

“We don’t have enough in the operating funds to do all this,” he said, adding that the council “didn’t pull the numbers out of the air” when setting the proposed rates, but rather completed an asset management plan. “The town never should have gone this long without a rate increase.”

Based on usage of 2,000 gallons, residents who live in town would see their bill increase from $21.72 a month to $38.04 for the same time frame. (The monthly $10 fee for garbage service remains unchanged.)

Heazlitt told how the town was able to improve 32 town streets in the past couple of years, thanks to funding from a Community Crossings grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. He’s optimistic that similar funding will become available for other projects that town has planned.

“Not all communities benefited from a Community Crossings grant,” Heazlitt said.

Clint Roos, with Midwestern Engineers Inc., also offered information, saying other communities have these same problems as Cory-
don, with mains and manholes nearly 100 years old.

“When they reach the end of their useful life, they need to be replaced,” he said.

If left unattended, the town could be without water and/or sewer service.

“All of these projects are intended to replace aging infrastructure,” Roos said.

Heazlitt said the town wants to stay ahead of any problems which will help avoid violations handed down by IDEM. He said Jeffersonville is having to pay millions of dollars in fines while also investing funds in infrastructure improvements.

“Our rates are among the lowest and will continue to be low after this,” Heazlitt said.

About the town selling bonds to pay for projects, John Seever, with Baker and Tilley, said it’s a good time to borrow, with interest rates being low, to pay for the needed projects.

“It’s a legal mechanism,” he said. “It has nothing to do with property taxes.”

Two people who handle rental property — Donnie Brown and Jessica Jenkins — said they will have to pass the rate increases on to their renters.

Brown, who said he has 29 rental units, estimated the increases will cost him about $800 a month.

“I have no choice but to pass that on,” he said. “I just wish the town would … slow down a little bit … (implement) smaller increments.”

Jenkins said, “This affects our leases and rentals” with some contracts bidded out months in advance.

When she asked who came up with the 15% surcharge for out-of-town businesses, North said all the rates were based on CPA’s input.

Tyson Uhl, who will succeed Mark Parks on the council effective Jan. 1, said, with five children, the increases will push his monthly bill over $100.

Rick Pflanz asked if all the work would be done at the same time or would the borrowed money “be laying around,” with the town paying interest on it, until needed. He added that if there’s an emergency within the town, “we have a riverboat.”

Sandy Marquette, who moved to the area a couple of years ago from Cheyenne, Wyo., and who worked for a water utility there, commented that she shouldn’t be punished with higher rates just because town officials didn’t increase them years ago.

“I’ll also pay the increases for places such as the YMCA and hair salon,” she said. “I wish you would consider the option of increasing over five years.”

Paul Arnold and Annette Miller agreed that incremental increases would be better, especially for those on fixed incomes, Miller said.

Tim Williams, who pastors a church just outside of the town limits, urged the council to be “equitable” rather than add a surcharge to those customers not within the town.

Jim Tyler echoed both Miller’s and William’s comments.

Matthew Hill believes the higher rates will “run people out” of town.

Kevin Burch, who works for Harrison REMC, said there’s “no doubt” rates need to increase but he added there needs to be a way to measure whether things are getting better.

Steve Haggard, after stating he thought the council was going to do whatever it wanted to anyway, asked if local residents would be able to be part of the bond purchase, thus keeping some benefits in the county, and if water pressure to residences along Walnut Street would improve.

As North reminded speakers several times during the 30 minutes that residents could make comments, the hearing was not a question-and-answer session, rather a time to hear their concerns.

Not everyone who spoke opposed the rate increases.

Charles Gordon, an insurance agent whose business will be subject to a 15% surcharge on top of the rate increases because it’s located outside the town limits, spoke positively about the proposal.

“Some people probably didn’t realize Corydon had the lowest rates,” said Gordon, whose home is served by Elizabeth water, which is triple what he pays for Corydon water.

While many suggested raising the rates in increments, Gordon said people will complain each time that smaller increase occurs rather than doing it once and being done with it.

“I challenge everyone to become proactive,” Gordon said, offering suggestions like shortening showering time, washing dishes by hand instead of in a dishwasher and not letting the water run while brushing teeth. “Changing a few things will benefit all of us.”

The town council will further discuss the proposed rate increases at its regular meeting, which will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the town hall.