2018-09-12 / Front Page

Delphi Council gives go ahead for $14 million water project

By Debbie Lowe
Staff writer

Delphi City Council President Carolyn Pearson noted the “packed house” at the Tuesday, Sept. 4, City Council meeting, stating it was “good to have them here.” Most audience members were present to hear and comment about the proposed water project and the associated bond funding.

Pearson said when the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) was approved, it would put the city “on the fast track” for the extensive project which is designed to repair and maintain water towers and connect all existing wells in workable fashion. The plan does not include obtaining water from a source outside of the reach of U.S. Aggregates’ mining. Three of the five City Council members supported the plan.

Council member Brian Garrison spoke at length about how administrations in the past have “kicked the can down the road.” He said he believes the problem needs to “be fixed” permanently and residents “better stop worrying about the money.” Garrison said he was not happy that, by borrowing up to $14 million for two phases of the plan, the city would only be able to repair and maintain what it already owns, not move forward with a permanent plan.

Umbaugh and Associates representative John Julien stated the city was not approved for a state loan program, which when paid would cost two percent in interest over 20 years. He said the new plan is to borrow from a state bonding pool for 35 years for a four percent interest rate.

Julien said water rates will likely increase at least 135 percent for the two phases, however there are variables to be considered such as a higher interest rate and rising construction costs.

A rate ordinance is required to be adopted before the rates are increased. The ordinance, which needs three readings to allow public comment, received the first reading at the Sept. 4 meeting. The second reading is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. and the third reading is scheduled for Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m. Both special meetings will be held in the Council Chambers in the City Building.

Julien said most municipalities raise water and sewage rates as a matter of course to be able to make repairs and maintain their infrastructure. He said it would have probably helped Delphi in the bid for a two percent bond from the state had the City Council continued to raise rates on a periodic basis. Pearson chastised Julien for not advising the city leaders to raise the rates as time went on.

“I did,” Julien responded.

He said the City Council did not follow the advice.

“This increase is going to be substantial,” Julien added.

Julien said the increase will likely be an across-the-board increase which will be applied to Indiana Packers Corporation and to the city’s 1,100 water rate payers, however he noted the rate study has not yet been performed.

City Council member Dale Seward argued against approval of the PER stating the city has not done its due diligence to know and understand all corrective options before taking action. He said he was contacted by an American Suburban Utilities representative just last week who suggested the city discuss management of the water and wastewater departments with their company.

“We just simply have not done our homework,” Seward said.

Business owner Krista Watson said residents have lost faith in the current administration. She said money was collected earlier for maintenance, was not used as intended and now seems to be gone.

“The decision does not need to be made tonight,” Watson said.

Seward read from a prepared written plan he developed and said the first action which should be taken is to connect Well #7, which will provide another 1,200 gallons of water per minute if needed. He said funding could be found in current city accounts for the $1,000,000 expense. He said the second action should be to connect Well #3 and Well #5. He said both of these measures would put a significant amount of additional water into the current system. He then said funding streams other than bonds should be fully explored.

The three City Council members who have been in power the longest, Pearson serving over 30 years and Garrison and Dick Traeger, who have both been in office 11 years, voted to approve the PER in the form of a resolution. A resolution needs only the majority of the Council to approve it in one vote to become effective. Seward and Council member Mike Shockley voted not to approve the PER.

Mayor Shane Evans told the Comet in an interview after the meeting, water rates are likely to increase 70 percent to 75 percent for the first phase of work and then another 60 percent to 65 percent for the second. He said the current water rate will likely increase by at least 135 percent by the end of 2019 and the first increase will be seen on water bills this December. He said it is unlikely the sewage rate will be increased in the next two to three years.

Currently residents who use the least amount of water, consumption levels 0-2, pay $8.56 (plus tax) each month. Users in the next consumption level, three, pay $12.84 (plus tax) per month and consumption level four pays $17.12 (plus tax) per month and so on. A complete list of rates can be obtained from the Delphi Clerk’s office. Water rates are combined with wastewater rates and trash to comprise the entire bill received each month from the city.

Business owner Jeff Watson told the Comet in an email he believes the interest rate on the 35- year loan will be higher than four percent. He said it would be prudent to seek grant money for at least some of the work needed.

“We went with what was easiest and what was the most convenient for the council members,” Seward told the Comet. “This is a bad move for the citizens, both current and future. There is no commitment from the Board of Works that they will be more fiscally responsible than they have been in the past.”

Pearson told the Comet it would have been her preference for the work to be done in stages. However, she said she did not believe the Mayor would support anything other than his proposal, therefore she voted to approve the PER. She said she did not see any way another project could work with the current administration and the current engineers.

“I wrestled with the decision,” Pearson said. “This was the project that was presented. Another project was not on the table. It was an agonizing vote.”

She said she was not comfortable voting for the PER, but she believed she would have been uncomfortable any way she voted.

“I think it was decided before we got to the meeting,” Krista Watson said.

She said she believes the Mayor had supporters in the audience who were there to interrupt speakers in an effort to disrupt thought processes and statements.

“I believe it was a set-up,” Watson said. “I felt like they just shut us off. Residents don’t want to attend meetings because their voices are not heard.”

“I am horrified there is no budget for the water or the wastewater departments,” Watson added. “These people aren’t doing right by the citizens of Delphi.”

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