An ordinance that would raise water and sewer rates for Greencastle utility customers took a decisive step forward Tuesday night.
Members of the City Council spent the better part of their three-hour meeting talking about whether to immediately raise rates by 47 percent in the water department and 15 percent in the sewer department or do it gradually over a period of several years.
In the end, council members remained divided on the issue but still managed to pass the new water rate ordinance, on first reading, by a vote of 3-2.
Councilmen Bob Sedlack, Russ Evans and John Lanie said yes to the new ordinance while Mark Hammer and Tom Roach said no.
Now that the ordinance has been approved on first reading, it will move on to next month's City Council meeting -- scheduled for Sept. 12 -- where it will come up for a second, and final, vote. Members of the public will also have an opportunity to give their opinion on the plan at that meeting.
If the council gives final approval to the water rate ordinance at its September meeting, the new rates would take effect in October, Mayor Nancy Michael said.
The ordinance approved Tuesday night is the same one that members of the Greencastle Board of Works unanimously approved at their July meeting.
According to the ordinance, the average customer -- those who use 700 cubic feet or 5,236 gallons of water per month -- would see their monthly water rate go from $14.49 to $21.28.
The same customers would see their monthly sewage rate increase from $31.50 to $36.26, for a combined monthly increase of $11.55.
Customers who use a minimum amount of water every month -- 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons -- would see a total increase of just $4.41.
City officials who support the increases say the two departments desperately need to raise rates in order to keep up with monthly expenses, plus fund their lists of capital expenses over the next seven years.
However, some council members said Tuesday night that they wanted to see the two departments make additional cuts in their spending or further delay capital projects before asking for a rate increase.
"I think it's imperative that we find a way to cut some costs, especially in the water department," Councilman Mark Hammer said.
But the mayor, along with water department Supt. Terry Dale, insisted that the "bare bones budgets" have already been cut and cannot be cut anymore. They say any additional cuts would have to come from personnel or from maintenance and repairs.
"We can do that," Mayor Michael said of the suggestion to cut expenses. "But we will cut the capital. We will cut the repairs and we will get rid of people (employees)."
Before voting, each council member was given an opportunity to offer his opinion about the ordinance or offer suggestions for revising it.
Sedlack said he supported the ordinance but wanted it to go further by stating that the city would revisit the rate increase every two years, beginning with 2008, and make suggestions for possible additional increases at that time. His suggestion was approved along with the ordinance.
Roach said he wanted to see the sewage department amend its capital improvement plan by moving the Toddson Drive/J-Mar sewer extension project further down on the priority list.
The sewer department has several projects listed on its capital improvements plan for the period of 2007 to 2011. Currently they have the J-Mar sewer extension listed for construction in 2009 at a cost of $1,141,000.
Hammer reiterated his desire to see expenses further cut in the departments. Also he said he believes part of the rate increase is going to make up for the lost revenues caused when Reelsville started pumping its own water last year -- an estimated $180,000 loss in yearly revenues for Greencastle.
"I don't think that's fair," he said.
Evans said that no matter what the increase turns out to be, the city needs to act as soon as possible.
"Whatever the increase is, we need to move forward with it to keep up with the infrastructure," he said.
Lanie said he hoped the rate increase would not have to be quite so much, however, he believes one is necessary.
"I don't think that there's a lot we can cut out," he said.
Lanie went on to state that the average customer would only see his or her combined rates increase by a little more than $100 for the entire year -- a cost he said he believed most customers could afford.
The last time the city raised water rates for its customers was in 1998. Sewage rates were raised in 2001.
The water department has a projected deficit, over the next seven years, of more than $531,000, according to statistics given to the Board of Works in July.
The sewer department's deficit is expected to exceed $312,000 in the same period.
In other business, the council:
-- Approved a noise waiver for Campus Life at DePauw for its annual drive-in movie night at East College Lawn. The waiver was approved for 8 p.m. to midnight Aug. 24.
-- Approved Ordinance 2006-03, Carpenter real estate's request to rezone its property -- bordered by Tennessee Street, First Street and Veteran Memorial Highway -- from residential to Professional Business District. This was the second and final reading.
-- Approved Ordinance 2006-04, amending section 8-22 of the city code regarding no parking zones. This was the second and final reading.
-- Approved Resolution 2006-17, authorizing additional appropriations for the city's annual budget to include $31,067 in the general fund and $2,713 in the Law Enforcement Education Fund. Approximately half the money is going to pay for a new computerized system to monitor parking in the downtown area.
The current parking enforcement officer uses chalk to mark tires on vehicles in order to make sure drivers aren't violating the posted parking limits. The new system will eliminate the need for chalk and will speed up the process for issuing parking violation. It will also eliminate the possibility that people would wipe the chalk off their tires. Police Chief Tom Sutherlin said the remaining money will go to help purchase bullet-proof vests for police officers.
-- Approved Ordinance 2006-05, amending section 8-26 of the city code regarding limited parking zones. This was the first of two readings, or approvals, needed for the ordinance to become final.
-- Approved Ordinance 2006-06, amending section 8-30 of the city code regarding on-street reserved handicap parking spaces. This was the first reading.
-- Approved Ordinance 2006-07, rezone of property on the southeast corner of the intersection of Veterans Memorial Highway and South Jackson Street (occupied by Black Diamond Paving) from Light Industrial to General Business I. This was the first reading.
The Greencastle City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at city hall.