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Water utility pitches rate cut

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Thousands of Center Grove area residents would see their monthly water bills drop if a change in the rates is approved.

Bargersville Utilities, which serves 13,500 customers in Bargersville and the southern Center Grove area, heard repeated complaints about a fee for residents with sprinkler systems and wanted to reduce rates after a new water plant was built last year. The town decided to do a study, which found that the utility could cut its rates and still be able to pay for expenses, such as staff and debt.

The town council is considering a proposal that would reduce the rate the utility charges per 1,000 gallons of water used, lower the monthly base rate and eliminate a charge for customers with a built-in sprinkler system. But the proposal also could increase rates for commercial and industrial businesses.

Next, the town council will host a meeting to get feedback from customers and will vote on the new rates next month, town manager Kevin McGinnis said.

If approved, officials aren’t sure when the new rates would take effect, since they will have to be implemented by the billing company the town uses, council President Ken Zumstein said. But he added customers would see the changes in their bill before the end of the year.

Under the proposal, fire protection fees, which are charged to every property owner to help with hydrant maintenance, also would be reduced. With all the changes, a Center Grove area family that uses 5,000 gallons of water per month could see bills drop by

16 percent — from about $46 per month to $39 per month. A business that uses 40,000 gallons of water could also pay less, but the savings would be less than 1 percent.

The new rates would result in some type of savings for most customers, McGinnis said.

“There is a point at where you would pay more,” he said. “It’s mainly the commercial people. Very few residential people hit that. Our average water use is maybe 4,000 to 5,000 gallons.”

The rate for using less than 20,000 gallons of water went down, but users who top that amount will have to pay more. Once a user tops 22,500 gallons in a month, the customer would begin paying 41 percent more for the water used under the new rates.

But since other fees decreased, including for their meter and fire protection, a customer would have to use several thousand gallons more than that before total bills increase, McGinnis said.

Water rates increased by 77 percent in 2010 when the town needed to borrow money to build a new water plant and upgrade older lines. The town’s older plant near Smith Valley Road was getting overtaxed during dry periods, leading to water shortages throughout the area. Pumps were running nonstop to try to supply water to customers. But since the plant couldn’t keep up, residents were asked to ration their water.

The new plant came on line in January 2013 and has reduced operating costs for the water utility, since the old plant no longer is as stressed and the added capacity has helped stop water shortages in the town and Center Grove area, Zumstein said.

That allowed the town to take another look at whether the rates were too high.

Bargersville officials waited for the new water plant to run for one year before having an accounting firm study the rates. As expected, the study showed that the town didn’t need to charge as much for water service anymore and recommended Bargersville eliminate the sprinkler fee.

John Jefferson, who lives in the Forest Hills subdivision near Center Grove High School, will be glad to see the end of the sprinkler fee. He’s had his in-ground system disconnected for four years to protest the extra $10.21 charge.

“It was a fee that other water companies don’t charge,” Jefferson said. “It really was an unfair charge because you only have one meter that services the house and your sprinkler system. You’re paying for every drop of water you ever use. What difference does it make if you’re paying for it, whether it’s going on your yard, flushing down the toilet or taking a shower?”

The town also will try to provide more information about water charges on the monthly bills, another request that Jefferson has made in the past. The town wants to give people a better idea what they’re paying for in usage, compared with monthly fees, Zumstein said.

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