TRAFALGAR, Ind. — Residents of Trafalgar are bracing themselves for a 43% increase in sewer bill rates.

The rate hike will be broken up into two phases, and the first increase will be reflected on next month’s billing cycle.

Town officials said the 43% increase is necessary to keep up with the town’s rapid growth and complete a $7 million wastewater system expansion.

“The secondary increase will come once the project is complete,” said Trafalgar town council member, Jason Ramey. “But in total those [increases] combined will be a 43% increase on the wastewater side alone. There’s no change in your drinking water rates or anything like that.”

Ramey said the current wastewater system is roughly 20 years old and has only had “bandaid” repairs thus far.

“Whether we added another home or not, our system is broken,” said Ramey. “We only have two employees currently, and those two guys are actually going out and doing some of the service on that system — removing debris and things like that by hand –because some of the operations and mechanics of the system are broken… We have to bring this up to current standards for EPA, for safety, and for capacity – whether we bring any new homes in or not.”

Ramey said he has sat on the town council for six years, but has lived in Trafalgar for nearly 18 years. While he may have voted to approve a rate increase, he said he is feeling the financial strain just like any other resident.

“I don’t recall any significant increases in the time that I’ve lived in town,” said Ramey. “I think it’s something that we should have done incrementally and didn’t. And now, yeah, 43% hits hard… I pay the same bill. My rates are high, too. I feel everything that I approve, as a resident, but I do honestly know that there’s no other way to get this done.”

With the rates increases approved and contracts signed, Ramey said the town will move forward with the necessary expansion project. He said some residents have asked the council to consider selling its utilities to Indiana American Water for cheaper rates.

“If the selling of the utility is what’s best for the town and the residents, then I’m going to obviously push for that direction,” said Ramey. “That entire process could take 13 months or more. And that’s from the day that, theoretically, the council says yes, we want to do this.”

Ramey said, given Indiana American Water’s buying power and size, a sale might actually lower rates. However, an official study has not yet been completed.

“There’s a long term upgrade and maintenance that is hard for us to afford on our small budget. So continuing with the upgrades benefits us and in the manner of which we will be able to get more money in the sale – if we choose to sell,” Ramey said.

Ramey said water rates have increased in the past to pay for a similar project. He even said the town has absorbed some of the rate increases thus far.

“This one truly is out of our hands. There was no way to improve our wastewater system without this,” said Ramey. “In an effort to not raise rates for such a long time, we’ve become reactive instead of proactive so that’s the unfortunate side of this.”