Lawrence citizens could pay nearly double for water, in what city calls critical need

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LAWRENCE, Ind. -- Citizens of Lawrence could see their water rates double because of what leaders call a critical need.

Longtime resident Dave Onda knew his water bill would be going up, since the city had been including information about its crumbling infrastructure in mailings for months. He didn't expect it to go up by so much, though.

"I was a little shocked, needless to say," Onda said.

A proposal sent to councilors calls for a 97 percent increase in water rates by 2019. That would mean an average of $18 more per month for residents.

FOX59 went to Mayor Steve Collier for an explanation. He said decades of mismanagement have left the water system in dire straights. He knew upon taking office that he'd have to fix it, but said he didn't know just how bad it would be.

"I would say, certainly, critical is where we’re at right now," Collier said.

The city is averaging around 30 water main breaks a month, some of its pipes are 60 years old, and its systems are getting too old to function at full capacity.

A study found a need for $19 million more, with $15 million of that for upgrades, and the rest to pay off old debts.

Collier also said that an effective junk bond status given to the utility in 2015 means the money will need to come from ratepayers.

"We have to be able to get ourselves in a position where we can make the fixes, if we don’t those prices just keep getting higher and higher," Collier said.

Onda and his neighbor, Kelly Leibowitz, said they get the need and are not opposed to paying more, but they need convincing that a near doubling of prices is necessary.

"The argument may be that the utility needs this money, but it’s got to come out of people’s pockets and so people have to be capable of being able to make those payments," Leibowitz said.

Collier stressed that this is a proposal, and councilors could decide to implement a lower rate hike. He said, though, he's prepared to make the argument to his citizens that this is a badly needed increase.

"I think there’s no question that we owe it to our citizens to explain to them why we’re in this position. Unfortunately it’s a 14 year long story," Collier said.

The Lawrence Common Council will hear a presentation and take public comment for the first time at its April 3rd meeting. Onda said he would be encouraging his neighbors and fellow citizens to attend.

You can read the report on the city's water system at the link here.

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