Residents, councilors question proposed rate hike at meeting

LAWRENCE, Ind. – After weeks of phone calls, Facebook messages and texts to their councilors, Lawrence residents had a platform.

Monday’s common council meeting was their first chance to voice concerns about a proposed water rate hike.

“I think it’s a crime,” said resident Mary Vest, who testified during public comment. “To me, if they had raised it slowly, it would’ve been fine.”

Instead, the current recommendation would nearly double water rates in just two years, an average of $216 a month for each household.

Lawrence Utilities Superintendent Scott Salsberry, who’s been on the job for a year, says that’s because rates have only risen twice over the past thirty years.

“What we’re doing is we’re going way too long between rate increases, when we should be getting smaller, more frequent rate increases,” said Salsberry. “Had we been doing that all along, we probably wouldn’t even be here right now, talking about this massive rate increase.”

Salsberry’s goal tonight was to convince residents why such a large increase in their water bill is needed now.

“We have to start replacing water mains,” said Salsberry. “We have to start fixing our water plants, shoring up our wells, addressing our storage tank issues. I mean there’s a host of work that’s been deferred and deferred.”

While Vest and some of the councilors say they understand the financial position the water department they’re in, they don’t believe residents should have to bear the brunt of the solution.

For people on fixed incomes, Vest says the cost increase will be punishing.

“What are you going to do?” questions Vest. “Are you going to eat? Are you going to buy your medicine? Or are you going to pay the water bill? So you have to pay the water bill.”

Multiple councilors stated they’d received similar complaints, especially from older retirees on fixed incomes.

Council president Joe Williams says he feels viable alternatives haven’t been pursued as he’d like.

But the financial representative presenting to the council tonight maintained that an aggressive rate hike is needed to make up for previous mismanagement. She also reminded councilors the city is facing a fast-approaching deadline to get approval and apply for a low-interest Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan.

Williams feels that doesn’t give them time to adequately try to address the residents’ concerns.

“I have a serious concern about this timeframe,” said Williams. “We’re backed up in a corner to try to make a decision, when we have seniors, we have people on fixed incomes and then we have people who are already in default.”

Williams says he understands the financial strain they’re under, but feels the department needs to look at other alternatives.