Huntingburg officials explain need for water rate jump

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — People have been shocked about the plan to increase water rates by 18% in Huntingburg, and they’re asking questions.

Water Superintendent Gary Meyerholtz and Mayor Denny Spinner wanted to explain the need for the increase.

“Yes, this is a one-time hit, and we understand that it hits everyone,” Spinner said. “But this is probably the most needed natural resource we have. People need water. And we need to invest in our water system now, to maintain this system for the future of Huntingburg.”

 

Why is the rate increase needed?

Improvements need to be made to the water system. Those improvements include replacing water mains under U.S. 231, making improvements to the water filter plant so that it can produce more drinking water, and adding a solar field to help decrease the plant’s future costs.

“We knew there was going to be a need for a rate increase to cover these projects, which are necessary for the long-term viability of the water utility,” Spinner said.

To do this work, a loan is needed. At this time, the city can get a loan from the State Revolving Fund at a payback rate of 2.2%. But this low rate is only available through 2019. Next year, the rate will likely increase.

But to pay off the loan in the next 22 years, the water utility needed an additional $512,000 per year in revenue. That can be generated with the 18% increase, Spinner explained.

Officials decided to do all the improvements together, instead of piece by piece over a few years.

“[The] council said, and I recommended, to do it all together,” Spinner said, “instead of having a rate increase now for Phase 1 and another increase next year for Phase 2.”

Spinner and the council know that an 18% increase is a lot. “But the amount of increase is probably less now than it would have been two years from now,” Spinner said, “because costs of construction would increase, and the percentage rate for the loan would also likely be higher.”

The last rate increase was in 2011.

State regulations and local ordinances stipulate that there must be a justification for rates to increase. “You have to do a rate study,” Spinner said, “and the study must show that the revenues aren’t meeting the needs of the utility.”

There has been no need for a rate increase since 2011. And, by law, incremental increases cannot be implemented without justification.

“So saying, ‘Let’s have an incremental increase,’ that would not work,” Spinner said. “That cannot be justified. You can’t increase rates just to make a cushion.”

 

Why do we need to replace water mains under U.S. 231 now?

The mains under 11 blocks of U.S. 231 are almost 100 years old. Meyerholtz has a map from 1925 that shows the mains under the road.

“That makes those mains a minimum of 95 years old,” Meyerholtz said, “and that’s far past the life expectancy of those pipes.” Pipes tend to last about 60 years.

The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct the section of U.S. 231 that runs through Huntingburg in 2021.

“That major reconstruction involves a lot of heavy equipment that will be working on the surface to reconstruct that highway,” Spinner said. “If you have weak or aged infrastructure under the road, there is a high probability that those lines could be damaged by the equipment that is working above it.”

The almost $1.4 million project includes 11 of the 14 blocks between Second Avenue and 12th Street. Two blocks have lines that are sliplined, because there was no place to move the pipes, Meyerholtz said. The line under another block has already been replaced because it had broken many times before.

So this project will include replacing the pipe under the remaining 11 blocks. The pipes under the road, which are 4-by-6inch, will be cut off the system and filled. New 8-inch pipes will be laid next to the road, being placed under sidewalks.

“That will increase circulation in our system. And it will increase the ability to fight fires, because we will be supplying more water from bigger mains,” Meyerholtz said. “It will also improve water quality, not that we have a problem with quality.”

As part of the project, sidewalk sections are being added, but only at the sections that will have water pipes underneath. That will be some sidewalks on the east side of the road, and some on the west side.

“Even in blocks where there’s no sidewalk, we are putting in a sidewalk, provided the ground is level enough,” Meyerholz said.

For instance, the block between 11th and 12th will not have a sidewalk because it is too steep. “It would be too steep to be ADA-accessible,” Meyerholtz said. “But wherever we can put a legal sidewalk, we’re going to do that.”

The pipes are being moved from the highway to under sidewalks so that future maintenance will not require digging up a piece of U.S. 231.

“If you have to add a new customer or someone needs a bigger water meter service, instead of digging up the highway, we’ll be able to take out a couple sections of sidewalk to do our work,” Meyerholtz said, “and pour those sections of sidewalk back. And it won’t mess up the road.”

Now is the time to do the replacement, before INDOT comes in to do the reconstruction, Spinner said.

“And, being about 100 years old, it’s only a matter of time that the lines will fail,” he said. “We don’t want to have to dig up the new highway at a later date to fix that problem.”

 

Why do we need to make improvements at the water filter plant?

The filter plant, which was built in 2002 and put into service in 2003, needs to able to produce more water.

“Our water consumption has increased at a rate of 3% each year since 2003,” Meyerholtz said.

Last year, the plant ran at 76% capacity. “And there was days between May and October that we ran at 102% capacity,” Meyerholtz said. “So that is more than the plant is actually supposed to produce.”

That is not healthy for the plant, he explained.

Each of the plant’s four filters work on 200 gallons of water per minute. “You can force more water through them. But what it does is shorten the run time of those filters. You have to backwash them more often,” Meyerholtz said. “We’re getting to that more and more all the time, where we have to run over 800 gallons a minute. It’s very hard on your filters to do that.”

Expanding and making improvements to the plant, which will cost almost $4.9 million, means that more water can be produced.

“Our lake has the capacity to handle the expansion,” Spinner said, “where we can produce twice as much water as we are now.”

In addition, the 50-year contracts the city has with Patoka Lake Regional Water and Sewer District includes clauses to reduce the amount of water the city gets from the company.

Having the water supply means that the filter plant doesn’t have to run all the time. The plant currently runs 20 hours a day, five days a week.

“My operators don’t have to work on weekends or holidays, because we have the Patoka connection,” Meyerholz said. “If we didn’t have that, then this plant would have to be manned 24 hours a day.”

However, “the more 3 percents you add to it, the more you have to run this plant.”

The first water reduction from Patoka came last November, when the amount of water received through one of the two connections decreased from 425,000 gallons per day through that line to 350,000 gallons per day. That 75,000 gallons per day difference must be made up at the water plant.

Another 75,000-gallon decrease is coming, through the second connection, in 2035.

“We can produce water cheaper than we can buy it from Patoka Lake,” Spinner said. “We need to have the capacity to do so. So eventually this will be a cost savings.”

When the plant was built, infrastructure was installed to allow for future expansion, including adding another four filters.

“If we’re going to keep producing enough water to keep up with the city’s demand, we have to add the other filters,” Meyerholz said. “We have to produce more water.” Other improvements and updates will be made at the plant as well, to make sure the production can increase. Those include redoing the chemical feed systems and adding a new intake pump station, new piping, a salt storage space, new walkways inside the building and two backwash tanks

The plant improvements would have been needed in the next three to five years “based on the consistent increase in water demand and the city’s consistent growth,” Spinner said.

 

Why do we need a solar field?

An engineering team suggested the solar field as a way to ultimately reduce the cost of the operation of the plant. It will cost $468,000.

It will reduce the amount of power the plant uses. And that means the plant’s electric bills will decrease, Spinner said.

“We should save enough money in the next 10 to 12 years for the solar field to pay for itself,” Meyerholtz said. “And the life expectancy of the solar panels is 30 to 40 years. There will be some routine maintenance that will be done. But overall, the solar field will save us money on electricity.”

 

The city will hold a public hearing about the rate increase at its next council meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 508 E. Fourth St.




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