By Randy Harvey, Superintendent, Auburn Water Department
Beginning July 1, Auburn Water rate-payers will see an increase in their monthly bill. The increase is the first in nearly two decades.
While none of us likes an increase, I hope our rate-payers will recognize that as a non-profit entity, Auburn Water has worked diligently to operate as efficiently as possible to control costs and be good financial stewards.
We need the increase now, in large part, because our water infrastructure requires maintenance, renovation and repair—all due to aging. While our team has done a great job of maximizing our resources and extending their lifecycle, the necessary upgrades planned over the next five years will help position our infrastructure for the next couple of decades. And they are all done with one goal in mind: protecting the quality and reliability of our city’s water.
What you need to know about the increase
Before I share about our capital improvement plans, let me provide some background on the rate increase. As noted, there’s not been a rate increase in 19 years. Auburn’s rate has been among the lowest in the state—and it will remain well below most of the state.
Most customers will see about a $10 increase.* Base fees are also changing as a result of the recent rate study, and the fire protection surcharge will now be broken out separately.
We were long overdue for a rate increase. Some have asked why we didn’t do an increase sooner and the answer is two-fold. For starters, we were able to maintain operations on the budget we had, avoiding incremental infrastructure maintenance because everything was in working order. Secondly, as a member of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), we are required to fund and document a costly rate study in order to request the rate increase. On average, the required study and application process costs departments like ours nearly $200,000 and takes an average of two years to be approved. The time and cost is significant with rate, engineering and legal requirements.
Decision to pursue funding from revenue bonds
While water rates primarily support operational expenses, the improvement projects require additional capital funds. Therefore, part of the rate increase included the request for municipal revenue bonds. We’ve determined that three of the projects—southwest water main improvement, AMI meters and water tower rehabilitation—need to be done earlier. With newly established water rates, we were able to get the bonds approved so we can begin work sooner.
What capital improvement projects are planned
I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep our community’s water infrastructure updated. Just take a minute to consider how much you rely on clean, safe, dependable water every day—for cooking, washing dishes, showering, flushing your toilet, etc. It impacts our lives every single day, so we must make sure our equipment and infrastructure is able to support it now and in the future.
Over the next five years, we’ll be focused on the following capital improvement projects:
- Rebuilding the filters (which remove impurities) at our two water treatment plants. While we monitor these regularly and are still functioning at near-zero iron, the filters are nearing the end of their life expectancy and should be replaced. This is scheduled for 2019.
- Replacing soft starts on the wells with variable frequency drives (VFDs). As a “green” solution, these VFDs lower our operating costs in the long term. We anticipate replacement to occur in phases between 2018 and 2021.
- Replacing and extending water mains on 15th Street from Union to Brandon Streets. These main dates back to 1898, so when main breaks occur, they cause substantial property damage. We secured a bond to update this main from 2019-2020.
- Upgrading to AMI water meters. This new technology provides real-time meter reads, detecting leaks or other issues and helping rate-payers understand usage. The meters will be integrated into Auburn Electric’s existing infrastructure. The project, which is also bond-funded, is scheduled to begin this year.
- Rehabilitating the water tower on Duesenberg Drive. The lining is deteriorating, and the coating is failing. Since this is where we store water for customers, this is an essential project. We secured a bond and plan to start this project in 2019.
Other projects include making standard main repairs and upgrades; cleaning and inspecting our water towers; upgrading our vehicles (which are 1990s models); replacing fire hydrants; and making door, window and parking lot updates to our facility.
Our goal—clean, safe, reliable water
As stewards of Auburn’s water delivery system, we take great pride in caring for the city’s resources. Clearly, delivering water will always have a cost, but our mission is to ensure a reliable, consumable product that you can count on. With these improvements, we’ll soon be prepared for not only today but for many more years to come!