For the first time since learning that a recent study suggested the city must raise its monthly water rates for customers by 57 percent, city officials are speaking out about the proposal.
During a lightly attended meeting at the Greencastle water plant Wednesday night, representatives from the City Council and Board of Works discussed alternatives to a 57-percent water and 20-percent sewer rate increase that was suggested to them by Indianapolis research firm Crowe-Chizek.
"I don't like 57 percent," Board of Works member Thom Morris said. "I think it should be less than that."
According to the proposal, typical utility customers would see their combined monthly water and sewer rates jump from $43.89 to $57.78, the first increase of its kind in eight years.
Those numbers didn't sit well with the two City Council members who attended Wednesday's meeting.
"We've got to look out for our older population," Councilman Russ Evans said in expressing his concern for residents living on a fixed income.
Council President Bob Sedlack also said he felt the suggested increase was too high and that he wondered if an increase spread out over several years would be easier for the average customer to swallow.
"It would be a lot less painful for people," he said.
Mayor Nancy Michael later expressed some regret that the city waited so long to consider raising its rates.
"I agree we have to do something now," she said, noting that the last rate increase came in 1998.
Answering to Sedlack's suggestion, City Attorney Laurie Robertson-Hardwick said the city is permitted by law to set up a schedule to raise rates by a certain percentage each year, for several years, rather than take it all in one large chunk.
In the end, officials agreed that a gradual increase was something they would like to consider when putting together their final proposal.
Another suggestion to emerge from the meeting was to eliminate or delay major projects that are currently included in both departments' capital improvement plans.
Projects like the construction of sewage lift stations near Putnam County Hospital and North Jackson Street or the extension of lines along Toddson Drive could be delayed or even eliminated under that proposal.
However, officials seemed more inclined Wednesday night to push the projects back a few years rather than eliminate them altogether.
Board of Works member Sue Murray said she believes the city has a responsibility to follow through with these projects since they have been identified on the five-year plan.
Sewer Plant Superintendent Mike Neese pointed out that some projects, including the North Jackson Street lift station, are in fact required by the state and need to be completed within the next year and cannot be eliminated.
Also discussed were cuts in routine expenses, such as those suggested by the mayor on her list of changes she believes will be necessary if the city chooses not to implement a rate increase.
They include further reductions in administrative costs for the departments, lowering the amount of money spent on care and maintenance of the water and sewer systems and cutting of the five-year capital improvement plans for both departments.
In addition to the cuts, she said the city would still have to look for other sources of revenue, all in an effort to make up for estimated deficits of $645,836 in the water department and $420,708 in the sewer department.
Despite the urgency suggested by officials, it could be at least two months before any increase would go into effect.
At the conclusion of Wednesday night's meeting, Michael said she hoped to have a proposal ready for the Board of Works to consider at its May meeting, followed by the City Council in June. It would take two separate votes by the Council for a new rate to be approved.
The City of Greencastle currently provides sewer service to approximately 2,933 customers and water service to 3,395.