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Combined panel passes ’13 budget for City Utilities

– A combined panel of Board of Public Works and Stormwater Management Board members Wednesday approved the $196 million City Utilities budget for 2013.

The vast majority of that spending – $131.7 million – will go to capital costs: sewer pipes, water pipes, a new ultraviolet disinfection system for drinking water and projects to eliminate raw sewage overflows into rivers. About $64.3 million is marked for operations and maintenance.

All of the budget is funded by user fees; none comes from property taxes.

City Utilities Director Kumar Menon said the operating budget is up 4 percent, about 1.1 percent is because of inflation and the rest is due to unavoidable increases, such as insurance and pension costs.

City Utilities has 355 employees and oversees a massive infrastructure: 1,164 miles of water main, 995 miles of sanitary sewers, 353 miles of combined sewers and 532 miles of storm sewers, plus the plants to treat and clean the water and sewage flowing through them.

Though the City Council is given a copy of the City Utilities budget, that body does not have budgetary oversight.

“Since our service area extends outside city limits and we serve communities outside city limits, it’s the Board of Public Works and the Board of Stormwater Management that approve the budget,” Menon said. “It crosses municipal lines.”

Matt Wirtz, deputy director of engineering for Fort Wayne City Utilities, said some of the big capital budget will go toward replacing more water lines than standards require because the city had fallen behind. Industry standards say that about 1 percent of the system should be replaced every year.

“We have years of under-investment to make up for,” Wirtz said.

Menon said the goal of City Utilities is to be like a foundation for growth: When everything is going right, the department should be largely unseen, but it is also a solid platform for economic development.

“Our goal is to try to be as invisible as possible, but as reliable and affordable as possible so the community can continue to build on us,” Menon said.