VALPARAISO | The plan to increase water and sewer rates in a three-phase schedule starting Jan. 1, was introduced at Monday's council meeting.
The proposal, already approved by the city's Utilities Board, would see water rates increase for the average user of 5,000 gallons of water a month by a total of almost $9 by Jan. 1, 2016, and sewer rates would go up about $11.75.
"One of the principles we talk a lot about when we approach a decision is the importance of not deferring maintenance to the next generations," said Mayor Jon Costas. "A lot of the improvements we make on the utility side will last 50 years and beyond."
Costas said the city has been playing catch-up with its underground pipes and surface facilities, and the mission was to not only catch up but to get ahead of it. The proposed rate increase was the cheapest alternative considered, including buying Lake Michigan water from another supplier. The increase will fund an additional well field expected to meet demand for 20 years or more.
"We owe it to the next generation to leave the city in good shape," Costas said.
The utilities board established an annual $500,000 infrastructure replacement fund for the water pipes a couple of years ago. The rate increase will increase that to $750,000 a year and set aside a matching amount for the sewer pipes. Utility Director Steve Poulos said even that will be inadequate.
The city's water system has more than 500,000 feet of cast iron pipe that is between 50 and 100 years old. For the sewer system, about 400,000 feet of pipe fall into that category. The utilities deal with about 80 breaks in the pipes a year at a cost of $3,000 each or $240,000.
"The rate increase is needed so we can continue to operate a safe, reliable sewer and water system," Poulos said.
Asked about the possible need for another increase in at the end of the three-year increases, Poulos said a lot will depend on the increased cost of power and chemicals used in treatment, growth of the city and new environmental regulations.
"The aging infrastructure is the issue," he said. "As we grow the community and economic development opportunities come before us, we might have to expand the plant."
Costas said, "We feel this increase will fund that strategy for some time. We will continue to operate as efficiently as we can and see that we are ahead of the game as long as we can."
The council is expected to vote on the increases at its Nov. 11 meeting.