HOPE — A two-phase rate increase over the next few years appears likely for customers of Eastern Bartholomew Water Co.
For residents of Hope, it will be the second time in as many years that their monthly water bills will go up. Details stemming from a tentative settlement agreement reached Aug. 23 between the Taylorsville-based utility and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor were outlined Tuesday to the Hope Town Council.
While Eastern Bartholomew had originally requested a 48 percent increase, a settlement calls for a two-phase increase resulting in a total 37.4 percent rate hike, Hope Town Manager J.T. Doane told the council.
The first increase of 27.8 percent could go into effect as early as December, Doane said. For a household using 5,000 gallons of water a month, that will mean an additional $10.65 on each monthly bill, according to rates quoted by Doane.
The second phase, which calls for an additional 9.6 percent rate hike, is scheduled to go into effect in January 2019, the town manager said.
Details quoted by the town manager pertain to the 2,100 residents of Hope, but not necessarily all 5,100 Eastern Bartholomew customers in Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties, Doane said.
The Hope council had approved increasing water bills 60 percent in late 2015 to fund a $3 million upgrade of the town’s water distribution system.
“It’s definitely a blow,” town council president Clyde Compton said after the meeting. “We will do our best to keep the water bills as low as possible, but this is out of our hands.”
During earlier hearings, rate-hike opponents cited 2015 census data that indicates 14.2 percent of all Hope residents have income below the poverty level.
The estimated median household income in Hope was $41,321 that same year, compared to $67,481 in Columbus and $50,532 statewide, according to the City-Data.com website.
Since the settlement has not yet received final approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, the utility is not prepared to announce a final rate hike, said Columbus attorney Peter King, who represents Eastern Bartholomew.
The increase was sought by the utility to offset higher operating and maintenance costs, along with the need for substantial capital improvements.
Improvements include a new water treatment plant to replace two existing treatment plants that the company says have reached the end of their useful lives.
Without a new facility, the utility will not have sufficient water to meet the needs of its customers, according to a Plainfield-based civil engineering firm that testified to state regulators last spring on behalf of Eastern Bartholomew.