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Council Seeks Input from Carthage Citizens
February 21, 2007 - The Carthage Town Council is hoping the lure of breakfast food will bring town residents out early Saturday morning for a public hearing on its renewed efforts to get a sizable grant to help pay for improvements to the town’s water system.
Saturday’s hearing is the second and final public hearing the council is required to hold before submitting its application for a $500,000 Community Focus Fund grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs next month. The hearing will be held from 7-10 a.m. at the Ripley Township Community Center, 1 N. Main St.
The idea of combining the second hearing with a community breakfast came after the council’s first hearing in early January failed to attract a single member of the general public. While this Saturday’s hearing is open to all members of the public, persons who provide the council with a letter with respect to the proposed water improvement project – either supporting it or opposing it, or simply documenting their own experiences with the town’s water system – will get a breakfast consisting of pancakes, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy, and milk, juice or coffee.
As a way of documenting the community’s views about the proposed water improvement project, the council plans to include the public’s letters as part of the grant application it files with OCRA. According to Indiana Public Access Counselor Karen Davis, however, the council may have gone a bit too far in its efforts to encourage the public to write letters.
A flyer issued by the council advertising Saturday’s hearing advises the public they must have a letter about the project to be admitted. Davis said an admission policy like that would not be consistent with state law.
“The can’t just put up barriers to people who just want to attend the hearing and don’t want to write a letter,” Davis told The Banner Tuesday. She said the state’s Open Door Law allows anyone to attend meetings of public agencies and public hearings, and said members of the public are not required to speak, sign anything or participate in any way, but can simply sit and observe the proceedings.
The town council will also hold two 15-minute public hearings at Carthage Town Hall, 6 W. First St., Monday evening, starting at 6 p.m. These hearings will deal with the council’s consideration of two ordinances that will, if approved, result in a nine-percent jump in water and sewer rates.
Discussing their agency’s denial of the town’s second CFF grant application last fall, representatives from OCRA told the council in December the water and sewer rate hikes would increase the town’s chances at getting the grant. Acting on that suggestion, the council introduced two ordinances at its January 29 meeting that will raise water and sewer customers’ rates.
The council is expected to vote on the proposed rate increases during the regular monthly meeting that will immediately follow Monday’s public hearings. If passed, water customers would see their costs rise from about $24.24 to $26.44 a month for the first 4,000 gallons of usage, while monthly sewer rates, for 10,000 gallons or less, would climb from $27.85 to $30.40.
The town council has already received some criticism over its plans to raise water and sewer rates. During a special meeting on February 7, Carthage resident Tim Hensley, a former member and president of the town council, told council members he thought the proposed increases would be a hardship on many who live in town.
“Sixteen percent of the households in this town are occupied by single occupants who are 65 years and older,” Hensley said. “Thirteen point three percent of those people live at or below the poverty level. So, five or 10 dollars a month is going to make a difference to these people. They don’t care about 20 years down the road; they’re concerned about today.”
Hensley told the council he’s not opposed to the proposed improvements to the water utility, which are expected to include a new well field, a new water treatment plant and a new 150,000 gallon water storage tank. However, he said he thought the council needs to give more consideration to the town’s citizens.
“And also, something else you need to take a look at is, how many water bills does the township trustee pay each month?” Hensley said. “You’re going to put burden on her office, which, in turn, is going to a burden right back on the property owners.”
Hensley also questioned the council at the February 7 meeting about whether the town was supposed to establish a special reserve fund to hold money brought in as the result of the last rate increase for use toward improvements to the water and sewer utilities. “This town was supposed to set a certain amount back each month,” he said. “I can tell you, it has not been done.”
While he said he couldn’t answer Hensley’s question with certainty, council member Tim Wehr said project engineers and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development had told the town the reserve fund didn’t need to be set up until the project starts. Wehr said revenues from the last rate increase have been reinvested in the utilities and used to fund ongoing repairs, costs he said would eventually be reimbursed once the improvement project gets underway.
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