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Huntertown raises sewer rate

Officials: Increase will offset cost of equalization basin

About 60 people crowded into the Huntertown town hall Monday for a public hearing on a proposed sewer rate hike, which the Town Council later unanimously approved.

The majority of the 16 who spoke were upset with the 46 percent increase, especially since it came so close on the heels of last year’s 64 percent increase.

After taking comments for more than an hour, the council OK’d the new rate, which Huntertown officials said will offset the cost of a $2.6 million wastewater equalization flow basin to be built on Hathaway Road. The council approved a $4 million bond for the project which includes contingency money, $132,163, contractor bonds and insurance, $396,488, soft costs, $434,000 and land acquisition, $393,500.

Several people asked the council to slow down and make sure it had explored all options before proceeding.

Huntertown does not have a large customer base to spread out the cost of the equalization basin – which will collect, store and pretreat wastewater – and the proposed $11.2 million wastewater treatment officials want to build, local resident Scott Hinton said.

He urged them to continue negotiations with Fort Wayne City Utilities.

“If you are not willing to negotiate, you will lose,” Hinton said.

Huntertown had contracted with Fort Wayne since the mid-1980s to treat its wastewater, but that contract ended a year ago. The city continues to treat Huntertown’s wastewater without a contract, and negotiations are ongoing, Huntertown’s attorney Dave Hawk said.

“What if you bond this $4 plus another $11.2 million for a treatment plant that never happens?” he asked. “The information I see just doesn’t make sense.”

“Forty-six percent is just too much,” said Sarah Garman. Her husband, Dave, said the “council was chasing a dream” and called the rate hike “absurd.”

The town was forced to raise rates because for many years, Fort Wayne had increased the amount it charged Huntertown and the town had absorbed those costs and had not passed them on to ratepayers.

A family using an average of 5,000 gallons of water would be charged $50.88 a month, an increase of about $16 a month

The town’s plan for a wastewater treatment plant was rejected by IDEM in 2012 and the town appealed. The matter is before the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication, awaiting a decision. In the meantime, the town plans to submit a new permit application with a new discharge site about four miles west on Hathaway Road in Eel River Township.

Councilman Gary Grant said that although he was against spending any more money on the appeal, he was not against building a wastewater treatment plant. It is an important element for the town to grow and prosper, he said.

“We thrive because of our growth,” Grant said. “We provide residents with water; why not sewer? Any business that comes to Huntertown should have to ask Huntertown (for utilities), not Fort Wayne,” he said.

“But whether or not we have growth, whether or not you have City Utilities or Huntertown, the rate increases have to happen,” he said.

“I don’t care if it’s the town or City Utilities – just stop with the rate increases,” Gump Road resident Jim Brown said.

Council President Pat Freck said she relied on the expertise of the town’s consultants and engineers and was confident that, in the long run, the town could provide better utilities and lower prices.

“This is a very complicated situation and there are a lot of balls in the air,” Twin Eagles resident George Nicholas said. “Whoever controls the water and sewer controls the town.”

Nothing much has changed since the 1980s, resident Brandon Seifert said. “My grandfather and father owned an excavating business here for many years and they told me this debate was going on in the 1980s,” Seifert said. “Nothing’s changed.”