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Pending Aqua deal delays city takeover talk

– The Fort Wayne City Council will again delay its debate over condemning Aqua Indiana’s southwest water utility as the two sides try to hammer out a purchase deal.

City officials are expected to announce this morning that the council discussion, which had been set for Tuesday, would again be postponed.

“The two sides, Aqua and City Utilities, are asking for the council to hold up the proceedings,” Council President Tom Didier, R-3rd, said Thursday evening. “It will give time for them to continue negotiations.”

The council had been set to debate the issue Jan. 22. That evening’s agenda called for a public hearing followed by discussion and a vote on whether the city should condemn the private utility that serves about 12,000 customers in southwest Fort Wayne. But just hours before that meeting, officials said negotiations were progressing and asked that it be delayed.

The council opened the public hearing and took testimony from citizens, but delayed the presentations by Aqua Indiana and City Utilities officials until Tuesday.

Now, officials say, negotiations continue to progress enough that they’re asking for another delay.

The city acquired Aqua’s north system for $16.9 million several years ago, but that purchase is still winding its way through the courts. A second decision from the Indiana Supreme Court on the issue is expected any time.

If the two sides can reach a deal outside of the condemnation process, it could save years of fighting and millions of dollars in legal fees.

Aqua officials have said they believe the southwest system is worth $60 million. City officials say it is worth a fraction of that.

City officials say southwest residents deserve the higher-quality water with better water pressure at lower prices that City Utilities can offer. Aqua officials say their quality and supply issues are resolved and that a purchase would require rate hikes for all City Utilities customers.

dstockman@jg.net

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