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Valparaiso ponders sewer, water rate hikes

Updated: December 1, 2013 6:43AM



VALPARAISO — The City Council will consider increases to water and sewer fees on Monday, four years after the last of a three-stage water increase took place.

Like the last rate hike, these increases will take place over three years rather than all at once.

Under the proposal, the average water bill of $25.05 for 5,000 gallons would rise to $29.81 Jan. 1 to $33.01 July 1 and to $33.93 by 2016.

The average sewer bill of $36.04 for 5,000 gallons will go to $42.53 in January, $45.93 July 1 and $47.77 in 2016.

After Monday’s first reading, council members should have the final vote Nov. 11.

“To continue to provide effective, compliant and safe water and sewer services, we need to invest in our infrastructure,” Utilities Director Steve Poulos said.

Polous outlined several reasons for the rate hike to the Utilities Board last week.

Fuel, power and chemicals cost more. So do insurance benefits. And the city is upgrading old lines on a pay-as-you go basis, he said.

The new rates would put Valparaiso’s utility rates roughly in the middle to upper-middle of area rates, if no other municipality raises rates in the next three years.

Valparaiso’s water system includes 500,000 feet of unlined cast-iron pipe; nearly half the lines were installed between 1930 and the 1970s.

The sewer system has 400,000 feet of pipe — about 40 percent — of similar age.

In 2012 and 2013, the Utilities Department spent $975,500 on six projects to replace 2,700 feet of sewer lines. Three of those projects were unplanned; routine closed circuit camera checks found problems that had to be fixed before a pipe collapsed, Poulos said.

Breaks in water mains cost $3,000 per incident with about 80 incidents per year.

Demand also will be increasing when the new Pratt Industries recycled paper plant goes online in 2015.

However, its commitment to paying for 1.1 million gallons of water in daily use will keep rates lower, Poulos said.

Combining the water and sewer department has saved money; equipment is shared and employees are trained in both areas, making it easier to deal with departures. With two retiring next year, that means about $180,000 saved, Poulos said.

The Utilities Department also is hiring an outside business to handle utility billing, saving about $25,000 a year.



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