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 Carthage Council Okays Water, Sewer Rate Hike

February 28 2007 - The Carthage Town Council voted Monday evening to adopt two new ordinances that will raise utility rates for the town's water and sewer customers.

Under the new ordinances, water and sewer rates are expected to rise nine percent. Water customers will see their costs go from $24.24 to $26.44 a month for the first 4,000 gallons, while monthly sewer rates, for 10,000 gallons or less, will rise from $27.85 to $30.40.

Both ordinances passed by votes of 4-1, with Council President Rick Bush, Vice President Wanda Henderson, and members Jane Kirchner and Tim Wehr voting in favor of the increases. Council member Bill Armstrong cast the lone dissenting vote, and council member Rob Cooper was absent.

Prior to voting, the council held public hearings on the proposed ordinances. The council explained during the hearings that the rates were being raised in accordance with proposals made by the Indianapolis accounting firm that recently did rate studies for the town's water and sewer utilities. Although the council's plan to raise water and sewer rates drew criticism from one Carthage resident during a special meeting February 7, no one spoke out against the rate hikes Monday. In fact, no more than two members of the general public attended the hearings.

In addition to providing more revenue to help maintain and operate the water and sewer utilities, the council is also hoping the rate increases will improve the town's chances for getting a $500,000 grant from the state to help pay for improvements to the water utility. Representatives from the state's Office of Community and Rural Affairs have urged the council to raise the rates before submitting a grant application - the third after two unsuccessful tries - to their agency next month.

Copies of the new ordinances, which include full rate schedules, are on file and available for review at Carthage Town Hall, 6 W. First St., during regular business hours. The new rates will be in effect for March usage.

While no members of the public spoke up about the water and sewer rate increases, one local citizen did voice complaints about Town Marshal Mike Onkst. Carthage resident Rodney Hammonds, who was arrested February 17 by the Rush County Sheriff's Department on a domestic battery charge, told the council that Onkst had followed him "all over Knightstown in his private car" earlier that same evening while he was off-duty and out of uniform.

"I didn't know who it was," Hammonds said. Noting the bad weather and his fear that he was being chased, Hammonds, told the council, "This stuff has got to stop."

"This public meeting is not a place to discuss your legal issues," Bush told Hammonds. "It's your job to do something," Hammonds replied. "He works for you."

Responding to Hammonds' complaints about Onkst being off-duty and out of uniform, Bush said the town marshal can exercise his law enforcement powers at anytime. Bush said Onkst was doing his job that night when he followed Hammonds, who, according to Onkst's report, was driving at a high rate of speed in bad weather.

"He chased me all over Knightstown," Hammonds again protested. "I didn't know who was behind me." "Don't break the law and he won't follow you," Bush said. Hammonds, visibly upset, ended up storming out of town hall.

In other business, the council voted unanimously Monday to accept Ripley Township resident Rod Brown's bid for leasing from the town approximately 20 acres near the wastewater plant. Brown's bid was $115 an acre, with payments to be made in April and November. Although the lease is for three years, the town has the option of canceling the agreement after the first or second year.

Crystal Trueblood, president of the Carthage Volunteer Fire Department, told the council she still wanted to remain involved in the town's park committee despite the recent resignation of Jennifer Cooper, who had served as head of the committee. Trueblood told the council, however, that she felt slighted when the council chose Wehr's wife, Abbie, to replace Cooper, instead of her. She also said she wanted to be assured her opinions would count if she continued her involvement.

In a related matter, Bush reported that Jennifer Cooper had withdrawn a grant application that had been filed with the Rush County Community Foundation on behalf of the town. He said Cooper, the wife of council member Rob Cooper, was upset and took this action following her recent resignation from the park committee.

According to Bush, the grant application Cooper filed had been signed by him. He said he sent a letter to the RCCF and is trying to get the matter straightened out.


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