Hope hires consultant for rate study

HOPE – Hope residents can expect a slight increase on their next water and sewage bills.

However, larger hikes may be just around the corner if utility rate studies indicate they are necessary for the town of Hope to continue buying water from Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp.

The last time Hope residents were asked to pay higher rates was back in July 2018, when the town council used financial breaks to limit the increases to an average $5 a month increase on a customer using 4,000 gallons a month.

While there have been smaller increases in recent years, the council decided to pay the difference with tax funds, instead of passing increases directly to residents. That’s because Hope had 11.8% of its population living in poverty last year.

But the latest rate increase, which utilities superintendent Dave Clouse says is the result of inflation, raises the amount the town pays for its water supply by 7%.

With the small price hike approved this month, customers using 4,000 gallons a month would only see about 72 cents more on each bill. But if Hope continues to refrain from passing increases on to residents, it will cost an average of $948 a month to the town with the latest increase, Clouse said.

“That’s just too much for us to eat,” Clerk-Treasurer Diane Burton said.

Clouse said he was recently informed that Hope may have some of the least expensive water and sewage rates in the entire state, but the town is undermining its ability to receive a grant to upgrade the community’s wastewater system if they don’t pass on the increases.

“Cheaper rates don’t look good to the grant makers,” Clouse said.

Grant administrator Victoria Bechert of Administrative Resources Association immediately agreed with the utility superintendent’s assessment.

“We don’t like it more than anyone else,” town manager Jason Eckart added. “But the town is not able to support an extra $1,000 a month.”

By a unanimous vote, the five-member town council voted to raise the current water rate from the current $2.48 to $2.66 per 1,000 gallons.

Clouse said that will only serve to keep the town of Hope where they were at financially before the recent hike by Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp.

The council agreed to hire financial consultant and accountant Otto W. “Buzz” Krohn of Westfield to do two separate rate studies. One will be for water and the other for sewage.

Many council members appeared surprised after learning each of the two studies will cost taxpayers $3,500 to $5,000. But Eckart pointed out the town has used Krohn for financial consulting on utilities and praised him for his exemplary and detailed work.

“It’s going to hurt us to do these studies, but in the long run, it is money well spent,” Eckart said. “Especially as we’re trying to get a grant for upgrades to the wastewater system.”

The town manager went on to say state regulators recommend that towns commission rate studies on utilities every three years.

In response, Clouse said a water rate study has not been done in Hope for seven years, while a wastewater rate study has been put on hold for 12 years, he said.

New council member Herby Asher made the motion to approve the commissioning of both studies with the stipulation that the cost per study is capped at $5,000. Asher’s motion was unanimously approved by the other four council members.

Eckart said he expects most, if not all, of the wage studies will be completed by the end of this month.