South Bend council approves sewer rate increases

The South Bend Common Council met Monday night to discuss a controversial sewer rate hike that would incrementally increase rates five-percent every year for the next three years.

Prior to the council’s full meeting, the city’s Utilities Committee discussed an amended the proposed nine percent increase for four years to five percent over three years.

In a 7-1 vote the council passed the bill, with Councilman Henry Davis Jr. as the only dissenting vote.

Talk of rate increases came about after South Bend was mandated by the EPA to undertake a $660 million sewer separation project. The initial proposal was tabled in November, 2013 when council members raised concerns of covering the cost.

Several residents also spoke out against the rate hike last fall, arguing that their rates were already high.

The bill discussed Monday amended various sections of chapter 17, article 2 of the South Bend Municipal Code to adjust sewer rates and charges incrementally through 2016.

The average homeowner can expect rate hikes of a few dollars per month in the short term. Director of Public Works, Eric Horvath, said the new rates will appear on utility bills. He added that in three years the department will have a better grasp on where the project‘s expenses will be and if rates need to be increased even more.

The Common Council approved other rate increases in past years and still wants to pursue cost-cutting measures.

The Utilities Committee’s meeting talked about cutting costs of the multi-million dollar project through technology and “greener” water treatment practices.

Councilman Dave Varner told the committee this could be a “defining financial moment” for the city.

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