In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council ratified a City Utilities water rate increase previously approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
City Council approved the rate increase request last June, sending the proposal to the IURC for approval. That approval was granted last month, according to documents filed with the City Council before Tuesday's meeting. The IURC approved 99% of the total increase requested, Justin Brugger, City Utilities' chief financial officer, told the council.
That means the expected increase will be slightly less than what was previously approved by council. For example, under the rate structure approved last year, City Utilities customers could anticipate an average monthly rate of $24.12. Under what was approved by the IURC last month, the new average rate for this year will be $23.89.
Current average monthly rates are about $22.78. The council's vote was preliminary, but final votes rarely change.
Even with the increase, Fort Wayne is still among Indiana communities with the lowest water rates, Brugger said. Indiana American Water, which serves 11 communities with the highest water costs, has raised rates by 8% since last year, Brugger said. That company's average rate was $41.41 last June.
“Evansville has adopted a rate plan that will increase their rates by 37% over the next three years,” Brugger said. “And Bloomington and South Bend, which were among the communities lower (than Fort Wayne) in the rates on this list, are up above $25 now, or in the $25 range, generally.”
In 2018, Evansville's average water rate was $28.06. Bloomington and South Bend were charging an average of $22.77 and $13.94, respectively.
The rate hikes will kick in June 1 and continue annually until 2023. The average monthly water rate on June 1, 2023, will be $30.05, figures provided by City Utilities show.
The additional revenue will be used to fund about $150 million in capital improvements, including $35 million in filtration plant upgrades, $9.5 million in raw water dams and reservoir improvements, $3.5 million in distribution pumping and storage improvements, $11.5 million in metering improvements, $5.5 million in general hydrant, valves and equipment maintenance or replacements, and $85 million in distribution piping improvements.
About 70% of capital improvements occur in Fort Wayne neighborhoods, said Matthew Wirtz, deputy director of City Utilities.
The rates will also help with water main replacement and rehabilitation projects. The goal is to complete 70 miles of water main projects between now and 2023, with an average of 14 miles per year.
There have been more than 1,500 water main breaks in the top 20 areas slated for improvements. It's much cheaper to replace a water main than it is to fix a break, Wirtz added.
“We can replace a foot of water main with a water main project for $120 a foot,” he said. “If we have to do a water main break, we're still running $5,000 to $6,000 to fix basically one foot.”
Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was the sole vote against the increase Tuesday. He voted against the increase last year as well. Jason Arp, R-4th, who also voted against the increase last year, was absent Tuesday, as was Michael Barranda, R-at large.
At a glance
Average monthly water rates
Rate increases take effect June 1 of each year.