Batesville Utility Service Board members Henry Pictor and Tim Dietz made the case for water rate hikes over the next three years and the Batesville City Council unanimously agreed with their proposals Nov. 13.
Ordinance 12-2013 was approved on its first reading, with a final reading expected in December.
If the ordinance is adopted, the increases would be 40 percent in 2014 and 10 percent during each of 2015 and 2016. The current $14.99 rate for a typical Batesville household that uses 4,000 gallons monthly would climb to $20.97 the first year, $23.08 the second and $25.40 the third.
Pictor explained that even though Bischoff Reservoir seems deep, only the top 10 feet of water is usable as the water near the bottom contains too much silt. “Evaporation in a good, hot year will take 20 to 30 percent of our stored water out there. If we had a drought year and lost water to evaporation and didn’t get rainwater, ... we may be down to somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four months of water … we would be in deep, deep trouble. We simply must do something. To build another reservoir is next to impossible” because of required permits.
He announced, “We have made a decision to pursue groundwater, rather than surface water” because members feel it is a more reliable source. “And folks, that’s a big, big decision … we’ve grappled with this problem meeting after meeting after meeting.”
Most likely the groundwater would come from a large underground aquifer near Brookville and be accessed by the utility in Metamora. According to Pictor, some scientists believe its water originates in Lake Michigan and travels in a deep underground river to Franklin County.
If the ordinance goes into effect Feb. 1, the rate increases would generate an additional $355,000 in 2014; $545,000 in 2015; and $705,000 in 2016 and each year beyond that.
The 2014-18 Batesville Water & Gas Utility capital improvements and maintenance projects budget totals $11.6 million, with about half, $5 million, needed in 2018 to construct a water filter plant at Huntersville and Vote roads to purify water coming from the aquifer. The water utility already has $1.25 million cash on hand. “Probably in order to fund that treatment plant, we’ll have to get a bond issue” and use the extra revenue from the rate hikes to pay the bond off, according to him.
In addition to the new plant, many other aquifer-related projects are listed: acquire aquifer site and easements to run water pipes from Metamora to Batesville, and install wells. Projects in Batesville: dredge Mollenkramer Reservoir, install new water main on Walnut Street between Boehringer and Kipper streets, Laughery Creek pumping station and water main from creek to Oser Reservoir.
Council members reacted to the plan. President Gene Lambert said, “I applaud the utility board … for coming to a decision. We’ve been talking about this for many years.” He noted that with officials’ desire to attract companies to the vacant industrial park, “now’s the time to start working so we do position ourselves for an everlasting water supply.”
Beth Meyers asked what will happen to Batesville’s reservoirs. Pictor answered, “We’ll do our best to keep them attractive, to keep them from being a nuisance … but as a practical matter, drawing water out of those reservoirs is going to come to an end.” He added, “The day is going to come unless we spend a lot of money trying to dredge those, they will be unusable.”
Kevin Chaffee said, “I’m in favor of raising the water rates … I’ve pushed this concept since I was city engineer 20 years ago. My whole business is built around water. Without a long-term water supply,” the city will not be able to grow. “If we can’t bring jobs and businesses to the community, we’ll all suffer sooner or later.
“I have two concerns with the proposed ordinance: There’s nothing in it that says the rate increase will be used to finance the long-term water supply.” He doesn’t want the funds diverted to other uses. Chaffee said he is worried about “our basic human nature of putting things off until a crisis occurs. Sometimes it takes a drought or a severe shortage to make you realize” more water is needed. He suggested setting a four-year deadline to start the aquifer project so another utility doesn’t get there first. “Indianapolis is already scouting for places.”
City attorney Lynn Fledderman said the council does not have jurisdiction to dictate how the utility board spends money. Pictor agreed that years ago, Dan Hillenbrand was careful to create language making BUSB separate and independent from city government. Pictor didn’t believe a deadline is needed. “I think we are pushed by the city residents. If we generate additional revenue and don’t do what we say we’re going to do, they’re going to be all over us.”
Council member Bob “Tuba” Narwold asked, “Is there a guarantee we’ll get (water from) that aquifer?” According to Pictor, the state Legislature shot down the idea Franklin County could charge a $1 million tap fee. “We want to get in now.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.