The city of Fort Wayne will move forward by the end of the year with a plan to take over Aqua Indiana's water utility in southwest Allen County, Mayor Tom Henry said Thursday.
Henry said he does not believe Aqua Indiana has the ability to keep providing service to southwest-side customers. The perceived problem was highlighted by Aqua's struggles to provide enough water during this summer's extended drought conditions, Henry said in a news conference.
"We have been patient with Aqua Indiana, but now is the time to take action," Henry said in prepared remarks. "City Utilities is in much better position to provide reliable and quality water to customers at an affordable price."
Henry said his office will bring an ordinance to City Council before year's end to start the process of condemning Aqua's southwest assets. The private utility serves about 12,000 customers in southwest Allen County, 70 percent of which live in Fort Wayne, said Ted Nitza, a special consultant to City Utilities.
Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns said he was disappointed in Henry's decision and thought the two sides were close to finding a better solution for providing southwest customers with better service.
"There were a number of options the city and Aqua had discussed and that we felt would be win-wins," Bruns said.
One of those options, which both Bruns and Henry mentioned, would be for Aqua to buy water at a wholesale rate from the city and sell it to customers at a retail price. But Henry said Aqua officials had rebuffed offers by the city.
Bruns also said he did not learn of the decision until he was contacted by reporters Thursday and was disappointed that Henry did not contact Aqua before announcing the decision publicly at the news conference.
If council approves the takeover, it could still take years for the city to get control of the utility and even longer before the full price becomes clear, based on the city's previous buyout of Aqua's north-side assets.
Eight years after the city first announced its intent to take over Aqua's north side customers, the two parties are still locked in a court battle over the correct price.
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