Water rates to rise

PAT FRIDGEN

For the second time in two years, the Greencastle Area, Franklin County, Water Authority decided it was necessary to raise rates for its water customers in Greencastle and Antrim Township. At its meeting Dec. 20 manager Kenneth Womack said operating expenses were covered by operating revenue, but other factors could put the authority $420,000 in the red in 2011.

The deficit was due to planned capital expenses, Womack told Gregory Rock, Robert Miller and Jason Gerhart. They included the completion of Well No. 4, the Madison Street main replacement project, and the U.S. 11 main extension and replacement project. On a positive note, he foresaw no other capital projects in the near future.

He recommended a five percent increase in usage fees, which would add $72,500 to the coffers. The balance needed could change based on whether engineering fees for Madison Street came in lower than expected; if the purchase of the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system fell through, $294,000 would be freed; and Route 16 improvement expenses would be reduced if the Heritage Estates West development did not move forward as planned.

Womack offered alternatives to balancing the budget. GAFCWA could borrow, refinance the debt, or sell assets. Miller was uncomfortable with a five percent raise, but was willing to assess three percent. As much as he hated to raise rates at all, he said he also hated to borrow. He moved, seconded by Gerhart, to go with the lower rate, effective Jan. 1, and directed Womack to investigate refinancing the debt and capital improvements. Rock concurred.

The new rate will mean close to $2 more for minimum users up to 9,000 gallons per quarter, and an extra $4 for users up to 16,000 gallons per quarter. Womack's goal was to resolve the ATMA and Heritage Estates issues and borrow enough to maintain $300,000 in reserve by the end of the year.

Economy woes

Keith Tunell, director of land for Dan Ryan Builders, asked for a concession from GAFCWA. The developer had completed Phase IV and closed its marketing operations for Shadow Creek Phase V until the economy improves. A November 2005 agreement called for his company to pay $553,051 within 45 days of final approval for that phase. The authority already put in the water line infrastructure.

Tunell asked that he be allowed to pay the money as lots were sold, since Dan Ryan could not afford the total up front because of the unprecedented housing bust. The development could proceed at a slow pace rather than stop completely if the allowance was made.

"I have a million arguments for you not to do this," Tunell said. "One reason for us is to start building again. I have nothing to offer you in exchange."

Miller said the improvements were made based on Dan Ryan's history and reliability. Any change to the agreement would necessitate interest payments too.

The board said they would discuss the matter.