Lake Station promises clean water, increases rates 35 percent
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent February 2, 2012 9:38PM
Updated: March 4, 2012 8:13AM
LAKE STATION — All residents could have good-quality water flowing through their household taps by February 2014, but it’s going to cost them a rate increase to get there, Mayor Keith Soderquist said in a public hearing held during a City Council meeting.
The council later passed the rate hike by a unanimous vote on second reading.
City officials admitted they should have been passing along incremental water rate hikes since the last increase in 2004, since it will now take a 28 percent increase to move forward on better water for all.
“I agree our water definitely must improve, and I agree we should be able to turn on our taps and drink that water,” the mayor said. “But you cannot improve what you have without increasing revenue. I know in my heart and in my mind this is the right thing to do, without a doubt.”
Most of Lake Station relies on antiquated water works and often have to scrape rust and brown crud from shower heads and taps or clean them from coffee makers. They rely on bottled water, reverse osmosis systems and water filtration systems.
The new system would replace all four city aquifers and add a new one, and run water mains from them to a new filtration system, costing several million dollars, on Union Street on the east side. Water mains would then take the clean water throughout the city.
A handful or residents speaking at the meeting asked for more details on how the money would be spent, while others cast suspicions on city leaders or complained about how they can meet their bills.
“How are we going to get the water up to standards?” resident Virginia Howe said. “(The rate increase) wouldn’t have come down on us so hard if you would’ve done this in small increments. It would’ve been easier to swallow.”
“We’re still not going to have drinkable water,” said former mayoral candidate Cynthia Robbins. “We know that 77 percent of the kids in this community are on free or reduced lunch at school, so that means 77 percent of our families are low-income.”
An alternative may be to sell the city’s water works to a private company like Indiana-American Water, which now supplies some areas, but the residents will likely see much bigger bills as that company would have to upgrade infrastructure before it releases a single drop of water, Soderquist said.
He also said Indiana-American Water had significant rate increases in 2007, 2010 and 2011, while Lake Station’s rate hasn’t increased since it was last set at $2.56 per 1,000 gallons in 2004.
The 28 percent rate increase will affect the last figure.
“All of us here agreed we’re going to raise the rates,” said Todd Lara, D-At Large, waving to the rest of the council. “But, when we’re done, you’re not going to have to buy bottled water anymore, because the water we’re going to give you is going to be as good as any bottled water.”