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Berne residents will see an increase on their monthly utility bills beginning in December as the city prepares for its first water rate hike in 30 years.
A public hearing to allow community input surrounding the proposed rate increase drew no comments Monday evening during the regular meeting of Berne City Council. City officials said the rate ordinance will be formally adopted at council's October 9 meeting and will go into effect some six weeks later.
Following a rate study performed on behalf of the city by the Plymouth-based H.J. Umbaugh and Associates that showed past and future capital improvement projects have put a financial strain on the water department, the council two weeks ago gave its first reading to an ordinance that would boost monthly water rates for average residential users by $8.42 per month.
Clerk-treasurer Gwen Maller said previously that residents of the city of Berne have not experienced an increase in water rates since 1980. The last time water utility rates in the city were adjusted was 2000, and on that occasion the rates were reduced, Maller said.
Steve Carter, a rate consultant with Umbaugh, told council members in July that the water department is losing approximately $140,000 annually and the department's cash reserves have fallen from $1.5 million just three years ago to around $500,000 today.
Carter said Berne has the lowest water rates among cities and towns its size in Indiana and that a rate hike was unavoidable to keep the utility financially solvent.
Speaking during Monday's public hearing, Carter said the monthly minimum usage bill (2,000 gallons) for Berne residents will go from its current $5.30 to $9.94 under the new ordinance. Average users (4,000 gallons monthly) will see their rate rise from $9.54 to $17.96.
Carter said the new rates remain well below the average monthly water fees charged in 30 other municipalities of Berne's size across the state.