Editor’s note: While Nate Bosch, of the Lilly Center For Lakes & Streams, spoke in strong support of work by the stormwater utility, he did not specifically endorse the rate hike. InkFreeNews regrets any confusion.
By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – City Council gave its unanimous support on Monday night, Nov. 2, in a final vote for a phased-in increase in the city’s monthly stormwater fee.
Final approval came with a 7-0 vote. The first step of the increase will take effect in January, said Mayor Joe Thallemer.
Officials say the increase in revenues will allow the stormwater utility to be self-sufficient, free up more money for other departments that have been funding it and allow the city to tackle a long list of infrastructure projects that will help decrease erosion and ensure lakes are less polluted.
The current rate of $2.95 per month will rise annually until 2025 when it reaches $8 per month. Each incremental hike will be close to one dollar.
The change marks the first time it has been increased after being established six years ago under federal regulations.
Not a single word of opposition was offered during a public hearing Monday night after a committee led by Councilman Michael Klondaris proposed the phased-in approach.
“We came up with a fair plan for everybody. We kept in mind the cost to our fix-income citizens in the community. Phasing it in over five years give everybody ample time to get used to it,” Klondaris said.
Councilmember Cindy Dobbins, who was on the rate review committee along with Jerry Frush, pointed out that the committee looked at various options.
“There were some others that were higher than what we ended up with, but we tried to be conscientious in coming up with a rate that we felt was liveable and could be spread out over time,” Dobbins said.
Council heard no criticisms about the plan from the public, but did hear two people other than city employees speak in favor of the work being done by the utility.
One of those was Dr. Nathan Bosch, who heads up the Lilly Center For Lakes & Streams at Grace College, which works with the city and other groups to monitor and improve water quality in Kosciusko County.
Bosch said he appreciates the working relationship that the Center has with the city.
“The stormwater utility is interested – as we are at the Lilly Center – at science-driven solutions that help the city provide the best possible service to homeowners and businesses,” Bosch told the council.
Based on research by the Lilly Center, Center Lake in Warsaw and Syracuse Lake in Syracuse are the cleanest in the county.
“That’s pretty amazing to have a lake right in the middle of a city be that clear and I think that’s a testament to the good work to the utility,” Bosch said.
The other person to speak during the public hearing was Jack Brunetto, a former city council candidate who often attends city council meetings.
He deemed the stepped approach as a responsible plan.
“At a dollar a month, I just have no complaints,” Brunetto said. “I know it’s an ongoing and very important project so I just wanted to speak in favor of it.”
In what might be a first for Warsaw city government, Thallemer invited the public who was watching the live-stream of the meeting to text any related comments about the plan to him with a promise to read those at the meeting.
The move was an effort to further invite public input during the pandemic.
“It’s just a good practice to allow those that are viewing from afar to weigh in during a public hearing,” Thallemer said. “I don’t think we can go too far with that.”
The offer, though, did not result in any further input despite providing 15 minutes for any messages to arrive.