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Bargersville prepares to levy fire hydrant fee

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Bargersville residents should get ready to see a new charge on their monthly water bills as soon as this spring.

The town is considering shifting a fee that’s currently paid with property tax dollars onto monthly water bills, utilities superintendent Kevin Killinger said.

About 3,000 Bargersville homes and businesses would see an increase of $13.50 a month when they start paying a fire hydrant fee through their monthly bills instead of their property taxes. About 7,000 residents and other property owners who already pay the fee with their water bills every month will continue to pay it, but Bargersville has lowered the fee from $20 to $13.50 for all customers.

The town is responsible for many more hydrants after its recent annexations north to Stones Crossing Road and doesn’t bring in enough property tax revenue to continue to pay for the $500,000 annual cost of maintaining them, Killinger said.

Bargersville isn’t the first Johnson County community to make the switch. Whiteland and New Whiteland residents already pay the fee on their monthly bills.

Whiteland started charging the fire hydrant fees on monthly bills four years ago in order to collect that money more fairly and equitably from all utility customers, including schools, churches and nonprofits, town manager Dennis Capozzi said. Most homes and businesses in Whiteland now pay $2.33 to $5.85 a month for the fee, depending on the size of their water meter.

Indiana American Water Co. plans to start charging Franklin residents a fire hydrant fee of up to $4.74 a month, manager of rates and regulations Greg Roach said. The utility has asked the state for approval, and the new fees could start showing up on residents’ bills as soon as March.

The fees cover how much it costs a utility to maintain water pressure to the hydrants, as well as maintenance and repair costs. Typically, the fees are based on the cost of maintaining an individual hydrant, multiplied by the total number of hydrants, and then divided by the number of water customers.

Bargersville had been charging its 10,000 water customers in Union, White River and Franklin townships $20 a month for fire protection fees following a 2010 rate increase for a new water treatment plant.

Historically, the town has used property tax dollars to pay the fee for residents who live within town limits and already pay the town tax rate. Homeowners or businesses outside town, and who don’t pay town property taxes, got a $20 charge on each month’s bill.

More than 100 homeowners and the community advocacy group White River Citizens United challenged the fairness of the difference in billing, arguing that some town residents pay so little in property taxes that they weren’t really paying $20 a month. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Committee recently dismissed that complaint.

Bargersville had been planning to bill all its customers the hydrant fee on their water bills anyway, largely because of the town’s recent growth, Killinger said.

The utility was able to lower the fee to $13.50 by refinancing debt at lower interest rates and spreading the fee out to all customers.

The town could afford to use property tax dollars to maintain the hydrants when it was smaller but not after annexing hundreds of acres and thousands of residents throughout the south Center Grove area, Killinger said.

Bargersville is now responsible for about 1,000 to 1,500 hydrants, and the cost of maintaining them has climbed to about $500,000 a month.

“Our town boundaries have drastically increased, and general fund can’t support the hydrant fees,” Killinger said. “There wouldn’t be enough money left over to pay for parks, streets and police.”

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