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Huntertown utility rates switching to metered system

Despite a resident request to delay a final decision, the Huntertown Council has unanimously voted to change utility rates to a metered system by Jan. 1.

Council member Pat Freck told resident Dave Garman on Monday that while she understood his concern and desire to wait until a new utility board was in place, the council had no choice – rates had to be increased.

“I don’t know that holding off another month would help,” Freck said.

Utility customers now pay a flat rate of $21.25 a month. On the new metered system, residents will be charged for wastewater usage based on water consumption. A typical household using about 5,000 gallons of water a month would pay $34.80 for sewage.

Prior to the public hearing, the current utility board – consisting of all five members of the council – held its last meeting.

Residents voted in support of a referendum on the spring ballot to create a new board that would have no more than one council member, and then affirmed that vote in November with a new ballot question.

The council plans to have a new utilities service board in place by the end of the year.

Garman said residents have voted twice that they have “no confidence,” in the council and that they wanted a citizen’s board to have a say in all utility matters.

“This premature action will hurt me, other residents, businesses and customers of Huntertown,” Garman said.

Garman also pointed out that in 2008, the town had more than $800,000 in the sewer utility fund.

“That money is almost all gone because of the town’s mismanagement,” Garman said.

Freck, along with council member Sue Gongwer and President Jim Fortman reiterated that the town had absorbed significant rate hikes from Fort Wayne City Utilities – which is contracted to process the town’s wastewater – and had never passed it on to utility customers.

“This is a no-brainer,” Fortman said. “We have to raise the rates.”

Gongwer agreed.

“Whether or not we do it or a new utility board does it, it has to be done in order for us to continue to provide services, and the fairest way is to go to a metered rate system,” Gongwer said.

But Garman claimed he and many other residents in town do not believe Fort Wayne City Utilities is to blame for all of the town’s woes.

“(The council) hired all those engineers, paid all those attorney fees, plopped down good money on land options, put off repairs and maintenance, made bad investments and have had deficit spending every year since 2009. You have almost bankrupted us,” Garman said.

Terry Stabler, a 42-year resident of Huntertown, agreed with Garman’s criticism of the town council.

“You were elected to look after our fiscal well-being and you’ve lost sight of the ball,” Stabler said. “It appears to me that you are throwing money down a rathole.”

The council will appoint members of the new utilities service board Dec. 19, when they will also decide whether the board will consist of three, five or seven members and whether those members will receive a stipend for their work.

According to state law, no more than two-thirds of the board can be of the same political party and members must live in the town’s utility service area.

Anyone interested in serving on the board may stop by the town hall, call Fortman at 637-5316 or email council@huntertown.org.

vsade@jg.net

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