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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
A motorcyclist rides past an open fire hydrant on Crescent Avenue last August near a water main break. A new City Utilities fee will support fire protection infrastructure.

Hydrant fee sensible

Hoosiers have made it clear they don’t like property taxes, but they haven’t expressed a similar distaste for the services those property taxes have historically supported. Give Fort Wayne City Council credit for recognizing that property tax support of the city’s fire hydrant maintenance is important enough to continue with a new utility bill fee.

The new fee not only frees up $23.5 million in property tax revenues, but it also addresses a problem that City Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, has long noted: Aboite Township residents are unfairly charged for fire protection infrastructure through their property tax bills and their monthly bills from Aqua Indiana, which provides and maintains hydrants in the township.

City Utilities customers won’t see the increase until Jan. 1. The typical household will see an increase of about $2.40 a month with the fire protection fee. Fort Wayne’s rates will remain in the bottom half of city utility bills in the state and region even after the increase. In addition, nonprofit organizations that enjoy tax-exempt status will now share in the costs of fire protection through their water bills.

The new fee is a more logical source for infrastructure revenue than property taxes. The oversized water mains and pumps required to support hydrants are costly to build and maintain, but represent an essential service in public safety and property protection.

Fee increases are never welcome, but the Indiana General Assembly’s continuing effort to drive down property tax bills leaves cities, towns and other units of local government with few options outside of user fees or painful cuts in services. Hoosiers effectively endorsed the move away from property taxes when they voted overwhelmingly to write property tax caps into the state constitution.

In the case of the City Utilities fee, ratepayers can hold the elected Fort Wayne City Council accountable for increases. The council’s vote to institute the fee was unanimous, demonstrating strong consensus for its necessity.

The hydrant fee represents another step in a continuing quest to find the right balance in paying for the services that residents expect and need. Council members acted wisely in recognizing a sensible solution.