Bristol water bills spike for infrastructure plans

NOW: Bristol water bills spike for infrastructure plans

BRISTOL, Ind.-- Bristol Town Hall was flooded with comments, concerns and complaints this week after receiving water bills reflecting the town's new rate hikes.

"The day after the water bills arrived in their mailboxes, we received a lot of phone calls," said Town Manager Mike Yoder.

Residents were outraged to open their water and sewer bills for May, the first month under the town's new increases.

"The average bill went up 70-75 percent," Yoder said.

But some residents saw their bill nearly triple, like Heather Jackson. She told ABC57 News her normally $60 bill is now $245.

Jackson didn't know the rate hike was coming, but when she took to Facebook, she learned it affected her whole neighborhood.

"With this economy right now? And the groceries, and the price of everything?" She said. "I got that money tree growing in the backyard. Water it faithfully!"

All jokes aside, Jackson said she doesn't know how she'll pay this month's higher bill, let alone paying it every month hereafter.

"It is going to kill me because I'm on disability, so I'm not working, so I'm on a very fixed income, and it's going to be really rough because I already got it rough," Jackson said.

The ordinance outlining the rate hike for both water and sewer was approved by the Bristol Town Council in April.

"Bristol started out having one of the lowest water rates in the State of Indiana," Yoder said. "They haven't really changed their rates since the mid to late 1990s."

Now, he said the rates are above average in the state.

"But we're still pretty much in line with other municipalities in Elkhart County, like the town of Middlebury, Wakarusa, and others," Yoder said. "It's

just that everyone was used to that really low rate."

The rate hikes are designed to fund two projects, Yoder explained.

"This is over $30 million worth of new infrastructure," he said. "So, a new wastewater treatment plant, that's long overdue. The new water infrastructure includes a new water tower. So, everybody will have better water pressure, and we'll be able to fight fires more effectively. Everything's needed, and it has to be paid for."

The water and sewer improvements are timed with what Yoder calls rapid expansion of commercial and industrial manufacturing growth in the county.

The increases aren't done yet; they're phased in over three years. Next year, residents can expect another hike of about 10 percent, Yoder said, and then another the year after. He hopes to avoid the third hike, he said.

In Thursday's Town Council meeting, more than a dozen residents, mostly from the same neighborhood, spoke out about their water and sewer bills. For some, like Jackson, they nearly tripled. Council was surprised at the numbers, saying they should not have spiked that much.

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