A Thursday night hearing on a 17.2 percent rate hike for Indiana American Water featured the first stand against a utility rate increase by the administration of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

"Typically, when you see a significant rate increase, it's something that is for the greater good, but that is not the case here," the mayor told three members of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission at the hearing in City Hall.

Freeman-Wilson said the increase will hit those living in poverty and those near the poverty line particularly hard, since it would represent a disproportionate share of their already meager incomes.

She also objected to Indiana American Water seeking to pay for its new $7.2 million water recycling facility in Gary with the increase. She said the new facility in fact would save the company significant money over time, by cutting bills it pays to the Gary Sanitary District.

After the hearing, Indiana American Water Northwest Region Operations Manager Dave Ryan said the company met with city officials before the new facility was placed in service and clearly explained the impact it would have.

Other improvements that would be paid for by the increase include the replacement of water mains, service lines and meters, according to Indiana American Water.

The rate increase would apply to direct customers of Indiana American Water in Gary, Hobart, Merrillville, Chesterton, Burns Harbor, Portage, Porter, South Haven, and Winfield.

Other rate increases would apply for businesses, industries and municipalities that receive Indiana American Water's wholesale services. Those communities include Schererville, Crown Point, Lake Station, New Chicago, Ogden Dunes and Indiana Water Services Inc., which serves parts of Merrillville and Schererville.

The requested rate increase would hike the bi-monthly bill of a typical Northwest Indiana customer using 10,000 gallons to $79.48 from the current charge of $67.81.

The public comment period on the requested rate increase will last until April 25. A decision should come later this year after further proceedings.

Commissioners on Thursday also heard from a number of senior citizens on fixed incomes, including Willie Smith, who pointed out even though he keeps his water usage to a minimum it doesn't do much to reduce his bill.

That's because the $8.70 he is charged for the volume of water he uses is actually only a small part of a bill totalling $41.23. The largest part of the bill is in fact made up of fixed charges.

"When is it going to stop?" Smith asked. "Is it going to go on and on and on? That's just bad for the economy."

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