By BRADEN LAMMERS
No Sellersburg residents were on hand to speak against a 104 percent water rate increase approved by the town council Monday night.
The town’s water customers will see their bills jump from $13.25 to $27 for about 5,000 gallons worth of water usage. Unanimous approval was granted for the rate increase, in part to fund an $8.5 million bond Sellersburg sought to make repairs to the town’s deteriorating water system. Along with the upgrades, the bond will also help cover the costs of Sellersburg’s purchase of Riverside Water Co.
The vote came about 10 months after the town council began looking into raising the town’s rates to cover repairs to its system, but the need had been expressed much longer than that.
“This is something we’ve been working on for five years,” said Town Council President Paul Rhodes. “It has been a system that has not actually paid for itself. We’ve been using money to subsidize it out of our general fund and it’s time for the water system to pay for itself so we can use the general fund money for something else.”
Part of the delay was to determine what the new water rates would need to be to cover the upgrades to the system and to reach an agreement to purchase Riverside Water Co. for $2.5 million. The purchase of Riverside Water Co. adds about 1,200 new customers to the town’s current 3,400 water customers, adds water capacity and increases future bonding capacity for the town. It also allows Sellersburg to set up a capital improvement fund for future utility repairs and improvements.
Town Councilman Terry Langford added the water system hadn’t been upgraded since the early 1990s. Sellersburg has already started work refurbishing the two water tanks in town — painting them inside and out.
“If you’ve noticed the tanks in town, it’s a good example of the rest of the system,” Rhodes said. “It needed a lot of attention.”
Among the other improvements outlined that will be undertaken with the bond — which also was unanimously approved — was the drilling of two new supply wells, construction of a new booster station, a new 500,000-gallon water storage tank and constructing a new water filtration plant.
Despite the jump in Sellersburg’s water rates, Deen Rogers, certified public accountant with Umbaugh and Associates, said the town still has some of the lowest rates in the area. Umbaugh and Associates was contracted to help set the water rates for the town in order to cover the bond and allow a capital improvement fund to be established.
In addition to the rate increase, the monthly fire protection charge of $4.38 per month will begin appearing on residents’ bills.
A recommendation would change the look of voting districts in Sellersburg, but retain four district council representatives and one at-large seat.
Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz Inc. has been preparing new voting district maps to account for the town’s recent annexation of Covered Bridge and the Willows at Covered Bridge. The first look at the proposed new districts was presented at Monday’s meeting.
The voting districts must be changed by the end of the year, no vote was taken Monday, but a recommendation was offered that the council opt for four district representatives an one at-large representative, rather than five district representatives.
Sellersburg Town Attorney Jake Elder explained that with five representative districts, planners were not able to bring the population figures within the allowable difference by state statute. According to Indiana law the allowable population deviation must be under 10 percent.
Todd Booker, with Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz Inc. said with five representative districts the lowest difference for contiguous districts, the lowest deviation that could be reached is about 19 percent.
Elder added that the council will still have to determine before the end of the year whether or not voting in Sellersburg will take place via districts or whether all of the council representatives will be chosen by a townwide vote.