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City works budget on rise with big projects

– Fort Wayne Board of Public Works members approved a $205 million budget for 2014 on Wednesday, a budget that officials said reaffirms City Utilities’ commitment to continue investing in itself.

The $205.2 million spending plan is a 9.4 percent increase over 2013, which officials said is because of increased spending on capital improvements.

Capital spending – replacing water mains, putting in sewer lines – makes up 84 percent of the City Utilities budget, so any increases have an outsized effect on the total budget. Capital spending will increase 11 percent, to $143.3 million.

City Utilities is funded entirely by user fees, and after a payment to the city’s General Fund is made to make up for the property taxes the utility doesn’t pay – this year, that was about $7.4 million – any profit is reinvested.

Len Poehler, deputy director of business services for City Utilities, said other things pushing up the budget include the purchase of Aqua Indiana’s southwest water system, which will increase operating costs an estimated $864,000. While the purchase is still being negotiated, officials hope to convert the first batch of Aqua customers to city water this summer.

Officials also hope to sign design contracts for a five-mile, $150 million tunnel that will carry sewage 150 feet below the city to the treatment plant. Construction on the tunnel could begin in 2017.

Matt Wirtz, deputy director of engineering for City Utilities, said that unlike a privately owned utility, there are no investors siphoning off profits – every dollar earned above what it costs to run the utility improves the utility.

“Our commitment as a municipally owned utility is to invest funds back into the utility system,” Wirtz said.

Officials said the city’s rates for water and sewer – about $55 a month for an average home – are consistently in the lowest half of rates in Indiana.

Board members of the combined Public Works board and the Board of Stormwater Management approved the budget unanimously. Though the City Council is given a copy of the City Utilities budget, it does not have budgetary oversight.