Repairing leaky lines comes at price for Hope residents

HOPE — Construction on the largest water project in the history of Hope, which is expected to begin early next year, could coincide with monthly water bills approaching twice their current amounts.

Under an ordinance given preliminary approval in July, the typical Hope resident who uses 4,000 gallons a month would see bills rise from $28.12 to $45 a month, said Trena Carter, Hope manager of municipal programs for the Administrative Resources Association.

But that’s just the first of a two-tier increase proposed for residents in the northeast Bartholomew County community.

After work on the $2.953 million system upgrade is 75 percent complete, that same household might see an additional 28 percent increase with an average monthly payment of $57.84, Carter said.

Town residents have a chance to speak about the proposal Sept. 21, when a public hearing is held prior to a final vote by the Hope Town Council.

If approved, the first tier of the rate increase would likely go into effect no later than January, Carter said.

The first rate hike could be reduced if construction bids for the project, which will focus on replacing leaking water mains and ensuring distribution if just part of the system breaks, come in lower than estimated, Carter said.

Town officials hope to secure money through a state fund that may reduce the need for a second rate hike, Carter said.

While the chances of securing state funds appear to be good, the town won’t know for sure until the funds are awarded, she said.

The town secured a $500,000 federal grant last month, but funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development amounts to only 17 percent of the project’s total cost, Carter said.

Almost half of the town’s deteriorating water mains are 80 years old, Hope Utility Garage manager David Clouse said.

As a result, a large percentage of the water the town buys from Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. leaks out of the system, he said.

Those leaks have resulted in a citation issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

A recent study indicates that, in comparison to most other towns of Hope’s size, current water rates are low, council president Jonathan Titus said.

Resources and infrastructure factor into a monthly water bill, according to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

For example, Columbus sits upon a plentiful supply of water aquifers and owns its own utility company.

As a result, the average monthly water bill for a customer using 5,000 gallons is $10.39, according to the IURC.

However, residents of Brown County pay $64.28 for the same amount, the agency reports.

Eastern Bartholomew County Water Corp, which supplies water to the town of Hope, charges an average of $23.21 a month to customers that use 5,000 gallons of water, the IURC states.

Rate-increase comparisons

Under current estimates, the following shows three examples that illustrate the monthly amounts Hope residents and businesses can expect to pay under the first tier of a proposed two-tier increase. 

For 2,500 gallons (small residential user)

  • Current rate: $14.80
  • Beginning in January: $28.14

For 4,000 gallons (average residential user)

  • Current rate: $28.12
  • Beginning in January: $45.00

For 57,500 gallons (industrial user)

  • Current rate: $236.60
  • Beginning in January: $484.02
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.