MISHAWAKA -- By a 9-0 vote, the city council approved the proposed new water rates for Mishawaka Utilities on Monday. The rates now must go on to state regulators for several months of scrutiny before they can become reality.
The vote came at the tail end of a three-hour meeting where the council chambers were packed with more than 70 people from the public -- a rarity at these council meetings.
It also came after a public hearing on a separate proposal that the city-owned utility is pursuing: to opt out of the oversight of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for its water and electric rates.
On the water rates, several customers questioned the justification for the 15 percent surcharge that out-of-city customers would pay.
Among them was Jim Trader, who said he doesn't mind the new rates at home, but he's concerned for his church, which had paid $30,000 to hook up to city water and now would face the 15 percent surcharge.
"Some of the people had no choice but to hook up to city water," said another customer, Dean Barnes. "Their wells went bad."
Council member Mike Compton, D-5th, said it would be fair since city residents pay extra property taxes.
Mishawaka city planner Ken Prince said it costs more to extend the web of city services outside of its borders. For example, he said, it costs more to send water further distances. The 15 percent, he said, is small compared with the extra costs.
Council member Dale "Woody" Emmons, D-1st, said he was glad that the new rate structure would only charge for what customers use, eliminating a "minimum charge" that had customers paying for water they didn't use. That, he said, would offer savings for many of the seniors living in his district.
Customer Sam Stinson asked the council to consider the economic impact of the new rates, since the most significant increases would be for commercial and industrial customers. He listed big water customers like Bethel College, the hospital, fitness centers, restaurants and hotels and wondered if it would drive up prices.
It has been 10 years since the city's water rates have changed.
The proposed water rates also would eliminate the different rates for the old Clay Utilities residents.
If the city succeeds in opting out of the IURC this fall, then it would seek to get the new water rates approved at the local level -- through the council.
There will be another public hearing on the IURC departure at 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Battell Community Center, 904 N. Main St. Then that proposal will come to the council for a vote in September.
Staff writer Joseph Dits: