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Lawrence water rates could get steep hike

Posted at 11:20 PM, Mar 15, 2016

LAWRENCE, Ind. -- If you live in Lawrence, a hike in your water rate is almost certain.

The reasons are many, beginning with an aging infrastructure, all the way to the alleged mismanagement of the system by the previous city administration.

At the beginning of the year, the Lawrence Water Utility purchased a $1.5 million revenue bond to avoid a default of its payments. The utility's bonds have been downgraded to the equivalent of junk bonds, and Lawrence residents now stare at a hike in water rates.

The city's aging infrastructure has been neglected. The Richardt pumping station works at just over half its capacity because the system's filters are clogged with mineral deposits. And much of the city's 50-60-year-old water system is showing signs of wear, failure and, some say, mismanagement.

In 2011, the sewer and water utility had an operating balance of more than $9 million. Just four years later, the Lawrence Water Utility was $1.4 million in the hole.

Some community leaders blame the previous administration of Mayor Dean Jessup for the deficit.

"Money was spent on snow plows, employees, vehicles property," said former Lawrence Common Council member Linda Treat. "And there was money spent that was spent on everything that wasn't allowed by law."

The Lawrence utility lacks the money to not only upgrade the system, but expand it, which threatens future city growth. The utility recently sent out a letter to its customers saying it has commissioned a rate study. And the letter warned residents to brace themselves for a series of rate hikes, or face disruptions in service.

"To be honest with you, I think they're going to recommend a rate increase that I think won't be tolerable for our residents right away," said Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier.

Collier believes the engineering consultants will make a recommendation on new water rates by the end of next month.

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