South Bend council tables sewer rate hike again

South Bend, Ind. The South Bend Common Council once again voted to table a proposal that would drastically increase sewer rates over the next four years.

The city wants to up rates by 9 percent every year through 2017 in order to help pay for a mandated sewer separation project.

That project comes with a price tag of more than $660 million.

"I think it takes courage and we need to step up and increase the rates to meet the needs of not only this consent decree, but also our rate payers who are having sewage backups," said South Bend's Executive Director of Public Works Eric Horvath.

Horvath says hundreds of homes run into the problem every time there's an overflow. The sewer separation project will help reduce those occurrences.

But, council members are worried routinely raising rates isn't sustainable for residents or businesses.

Councilman Dave Varner says the council should have been involved in the planning of the massive project long ago so they could avoid constantly bumping rates up.

"I think this is a deal that got out of control," he said.

Several residents spoke out against the rate hike during Monday's meeting, saying they're already struggling to pay their sewer bills. Many asked the city to find funding elsewhere or cut the costs of the project.

"I know the bill was passed for the streets to be turned back into two-way streets," said South Bend resident Barbara Jewell. "It's a huge, huge money problem that we have for South Bend. I think too much money has been put into this. There are areas of the project that are questionable. Could some of that money be put into the sewer project?"

Horvath says legally, that could be possible. But, he urged the council to support the sewer rate increase because he says it would mean lower rates in the future.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a statement with the same sentiment: "No elected official wants to raise rates. It's never popular. But, if we don't act now, everyone will have to pay even more in just a few years. It's time to be responsible and keep future costs down while we have the chance, not punt the tough decisions to our successors."

After expressing several concerns, the council voted to table the issue until Jan. 27.

They say they need more information from the administration before they vote.

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