Town council proposes 24.7% increase to sewer rate; private company ‘looking into’ purchase of town water utility

Water may not be the only utility in the Town of Nashville that will have a higher rate this year after an increase to the town’s wastewater rate was proposed at last month’s town council meeting — the first in 10 years.

The proposed rate is an increase of 24.7% over the current rate. As it stands, inside town limits users are paying $10.13 per 1,000 gallons and outside users pay $13.75 per 1,000 gallons.

With the increase, the rate will be $12.63 per 1,000 gallons for those inside town limits and $17.15 per 1,000 gallons for those outside.

At the May 19 meeting, the town council approved an ordinance raising the wastewater rates on first reading.

A legal notice was published in this week’s Brown County Democrat advertising the public hearing on the ordinance, which is scheduled for June 16. Find the legal advertisement in this week’s Marketplace.

The wastewater rate increase, like the water rate increase, is due to the increased expenses and maintenance, operation and improvement of the sewage treatment works, according to the draft ordinance.

Rates were last increased for water and wastewater in 2012.

“This is just for operations to raise rates high enough to operate the plant on a daily basis,” town municipal consultant Dax Norton said at the May 19 meeting.

“This is long-needed.”

Town council President Nancy Crocker said that the town council should have been raising rates in increments over the last 10 years to help cover the increasing costs for operation, maintenance and other expenses.

The water rate was increased by 10.8% in April, also to cover operating costs of the water treatment facility.

“The council should have been doing this progressively so we don’t have to do such a big one here,” she said.

She continued that the town’s Utility Service Board made the request for the increase based on evaluations done on the water and wastewater rates in contrast to the cost of living, manufacturing and operating costs.

The request came from the USB after they reviewed the wastewater utility budget and found they needed to compose a budget that pays for the true operation of the utility, Norton said on May 26.

“We can’t skimp or piecemeal anymore,” he said. “Both of those increases are to operate the utility like it should.”

“That’s part of what the USB is great for,” Crocker said at the town council meeting.

Norton said at the meeting last month that because rates have not been raised since 2012 that the increase this year is “steep.”

“Part of the future plan is to make sure that, first of all, we have a future plan and that yearly increases are incorporated in that plan so we don’t have to have a big increase like this ever again,” Crocker said at the meeting.

After the public hearing later this month there will be a second, and final, reading before the rate is formally adopted.

These water and wastewater rate increases are not related to the town’s project with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that will connect the Brown County State Park to the town’s water system, Norton said at the May 19 town council meeting.

That project will be funded through a forgivable loan from the Indiana Finance Authority and does not require any additional funding from the town.

Sell or not sell?

The town’s water utility was also brought back into discussions at the meeting last month after town council Vice President Anna Hofstetter commented on the possibility of a private company purchasing it.

Towards the end of the May 19 meeting, Hofstetter said she wanted the town council to “hold tight” to the water utility and not sell it to a private company.

Hofstetter said she first learned of this possible purchase when she had dinner with Crocker the week prior. Before continuing, Crocker told Hofstetter that what the two spoke about was “confidential at that point in time.”

Town Attorney Wanda Jones said the matter was “classified” because it had not been formally presented to the town council for consideration.

Hofstetter could not be reached for further comment by deadline.

Last week, Crocker said in a follow-up interview with The Democrat that a private company was encouraged by a former town employee to reach out to the town and learn more about the town’s utilities.

The company then reached out to council member David Rudd who then brought Norton in the loop, Crocker said.

Norton said in a follow-up interview that the company, Indiana American Water, would be examining factors such as water billing, the age of pipes and other infrastructure.

No decisions can be formally made without an appraisal, he said on May 26.

Rudd and Norton then came to Crocker’s home to inform her of the company reaching out, which Crocker said they should explore. Rudd and Norton then went to council members Jane Gore and Tyra Miller separately to inform them of the company’s interest.

Crocker then told Hofstetter about the company’s interest.

“I told her there was good news, there was an opportunity and this might be good for us,” Crocker said. “I told her at this point this needed to remain confidential.”

There were no official meetings to discuss the company’s interest in the town’s utilities. Crocker signed a document that would ensure the matter remained confidential until any sort of offer was made, she said.

Indiana American Water has a community, like Nashville, sign a document consenting to a pull of information. Both the company and community agreeing that findings are confidential, Norton said.

The document has nothing to do with buying or selling anything, he added.

“We don’t have any clue what pros and cons are. We’re not there yet,” he said. “It’s all in Indiana American Water’s hands. … Is it advantageous? We have no idea. We’re in step half of 57.”

Following the meeting last month, Crocker issued a statement on May 23 that stated the town had not entered into any contract to sell the water system, but that the agreement was entered to determine whether or not it would benefit the town and “cut water rates.”

“The company asked that I sign a confidential agreement so that both sides could investigate the idea. The confidential aspect is for the company as the town’s records are public,” she said.

“The agreement allows both sides to investigate and perform due diligence as to whether or not this could happen and be beneficial to the town. There has been nothing signed where the Town of Nashville has sold anything.”

“Rest assured that the Nashville Town Council is carefully examining this concept and, if it appears viable, will bring the issue to the town,” the statement continues.

Crocker added on May 25 that she believed entering into the agreement was not an uncommon practice and that the council “did nothing wrong.”

Indiana American Water has 1.3 million rate payers in the state, Norton said.

A decision to move forward with the company would ultimately be made by town council, but they would “rely heavily” on input from the town’s Utilities Service Board, Crocker said.

Crocker said that she reached out to the interested company on May 23 to inform them the matter was briefly mentioned at the town council meeting and that they were understanding.

Any ongoing projects of the town involving IFA — the state park project and sanitary sewer rehabilitation project — will not be affected, Crocker and Norton both said in interviews following the meeting.