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COMMUNITY VOICE

Partnership between city, Aqua Indiana big win for entire community

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 12:01 am

A public-private partnership between the City of Fort Wayne and Aqua Indiana is a big win for the entire community as we continue our commitment to investing in our future.

The letter of intent agreement that's been signed with Aqua moves the process forward for the city to purchase Aqua's southwestern water utility and resolve the dispute over the purchase price of Aqua's former north system.

Providing excellent essential services, such as drinking water, makes our city sustainable, safe, and positioned for economic growth and success. This collaborative relationship with Aqua will serve residents with reliable and high quality water at an affordable price.

Fort Wayne City Utilities provides award-winning, nationally-recognized drinking water that is second to none. The economies of scale that City Utilities brings to the table in this community result in unmatched cost savings. Our efforts in Aqua's former north system area have already reaped over $10 million in savings for residents over the past five years. Our efforts in the southwest are anticipated to save residents over $2 million annually as a result of lower rates, reduced or avoided expenses in water softening, bottled water costs and extending the life of water-using appliances. Current Aqua southwestern customers inside City limits are expected to save $100-$140 per year on their utility bill after ownership by City Utilities.

We recognize that the total investment of $67 million ($16.9 million has already been paid) is significant, but it's critical to make investments that will serve generations to come. This investment also brings in more than 12,000 customers – each paying their share.

A larger, growing, more diverse customer base helps all City Utilities customers by further spreading the costs of operating the utility. Reaching this agreement also avoids protracted condemnation actions, which would have resulted in expensive legal fees and delayed the benefits of city ownership. We also want current City Utilities customers to know that they will not see an increase in water rates as a result of the transaction.

We look forward to the final contract agreement being in place in the weeks ahead and will share the positive results with Fort Wayne City Council and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) in seeking their approval. The completion of the transaction is expected during the first quarter of 2014.

Within days of City Council and IURC approving the closing, many former Aqua customers will receive city water in their homes. A more precise schedule for the complete transition of all former Aqua customers located in the city is expected to be finalized by the time of closing but is not expected to be longer than a year.

I commend Aqua for staying committed to Fort Wayne as they will continue to provide sewer services in the community. As part of that continued commitment, Aqua will invest $25,000 annually for 20 years in sanitary sewer infrastructure improvement projects providing for economic development or septic system relief.

This type of increased involvement will provide the community more tools when retaining or attracting new businesses or addressing long-standing environmental and public health hazards resulting from failed or failing septic systems. Our innovative partnership will result in the city becoming Aqua's largest sanitary sewer customer in this area, which means better service levels and improved opportunities for growth and economic development. Aqua has also committed to freeze rates in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

This public-private partnership has benefits for the city, for Aqua, and most importantly the customers of both utility providers. We hope our partnership with Aqua will serve as a model for other collaboration on utility issues in our region, including our ongoing efforts to work with Huntertown to reach an agreement on utility services for their town. It's time to resolve our differences in the best interests of City Utilities customers and Huntertown customers.

The city and Aqua have come together for the betterment of our community. I'm excited about our future. We're a city that's committed to investing for our residents, schools, businesses and other customers. We're making a meaningful difference for today and tomorrow.

Tom Henry is mayor of Fort Wayne.