RATE INCREASE: Water utility application brings public hearing

COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City City Hall played host to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for a public field hearing Thursday regarding the proposed water rate increase for the city.A public field hearing is a formal, legal proceeding. Administrative Law Judge Angela Weber presided over the meeting and Commissioner Larry Landis was on hand for IURC.Though representatives from the OUCC and IURC are available to answer procedural questions asked by the public, the judge and commissioners are not. The judge oversees the proceedings and the commissioner — who will evaluate the evidence and make a decision — observes.Representative Rich Higgins said the city provided very thorough details to the IURC in an updated small utility rate application filed in February of this year. The original request was filed in December 2011.In the filing, the utility is requesting a 36.06 percent increase across the board, down from the original estimate of approximately 44 percent.The increase factors out to a hike of $5.84 a month for an average household use of 4,000 gallons. An increase of $7.05 would apply to 5,000 gallons. The rate increase is being sought due to increases in operating and maintenance costs, capital improvements, and lower revenue.Mayor Ryan Daniel said he understood the concerns of residents, but that the rate was necessary to keep the utility fiscally functional. Daniel said he did not want to diminish the fact, however, that at the end of the day it is still an increase.“We know it’s a difficult time. We know that it’s tough for individuals — especially in a time that the economy isn’t great. It is our job as elected officials to make the decisions to ensure our utilities are solvent. This rate will still put us in a position where we are cheaper than several other area communities,” Daniel said.The OUCC will continue to accept written consumer comments by mail, fax, email and through the agency’s website. The official record will remain open until March 30, and the OUCC is tentatively scheduled to file its report with the IURC on April 5.___For a more in depth look at this story, see the March 9 issue of The Post and Mail. Don't have a subscription? Call (260) 244-5153 or subscribe to our e-edition. For breaking news, sports updates and additional coverage, bookmark the homepage and find us on facebook.