News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 9, 2012

City Council votes to increase sewer rates

Changes will be implemented over three years with first of three 15-percent increases coming next July

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute City Council voted Thursday night to increase area sewer fees by more than 50 percent over the next three years.

Several council members said they were deeply reluctant to take the vote but noted they were effectively forced to pass the increase by federally mandated improvements to the city’s combined rainwater and sewage system.

The rate increases will come in three steps. The first increase of 15 percent will take effect next July. There will then be two additional increases of 15 percent each over the following two years.

“None of us hates anything more than raising rates, taxes,” said Councilman George Azar, D-at large. “I don’t see where we have any choice.”

Under the rate increases, the average household will see its monthly sewer bill increase from $32 to $37 the first year then to about $43 the second year and $49 the third year, according to figures provided by H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

The increases approved Thursday night will be the last needed to pay for an approximately $150 million upgrade of the wastewater treatment facility and improvements designed to keep the city’s raw sewage from entering the Wabash River.

“We are mandated to do this,” said Mayor Duke Bennett, speaking to the council. Failure to pass the rate hikes would open the door for a federal takeover of the city’s sewage “long term control” plan, which could result in higher rates, he said.

For several years, the city negotiated with state and federal environmental officials to put in place a 20-year plan to reduce the amount of raw sewage that enters the Wabash. Currently, whenever there is a significant rain, a combination of rainwater and raw sewage enters the river.

• Also Thursday night, the council voted 8 to 1 to allow for the sale of a 33-space parking lot and former transit hub at Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue.

The property will be placed up for sale in an open bidding process, said Rhonda Oldham, an attorney working on behalf of the city. The minimum sale price would be $118,000, which is the average of two appraisals of the property, she said.

Councilman Todd Nation, D-4th, voted against allowing the property to be sold, saying he wanted to know what conditions a potential buyer would have to meet before being allowed to buy the land. The city plans to require the property to see development within a specified period of time in order for the sale to remain valid, Oldham said. However, conditions on the sale must come from the Board of Public Works and Safety, she said.

Nation said he is concerned about the loss of so many parking spaces downtown and also wanted to make sure that any conditions on the sale would not limit any possible buyers to just a very small number. “I want to see everybody get a fair crack at it,” Nation said.

Indiana State University is a possible buyer for the property, city officials have said.

• Finally, at the end of their more-than-two-hour meeting, the council heard the results of a professional traffic study for downtown Terre Haute. The study considered the likely effects of making Cherry Street into a two-way street and allowing access to Cherry from U.S. 41.

The study indicated that the change would increase congestion, reduce air quality and increase costs associated with travel downtown. The Corradino Group, which authored the study, recommended against the change.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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