DEMOTTE, IND. — DeMotte residents will notice a hydrant fee on their May utility bill.
The fee, formerly known as a fire protection fee, was charged on Jasper County’s tax bills last year.
According to a newsletter sent out to town residents, this process saved Northwest Jasper Regional Water District (NORWEJ) and taxpayers a substantial amount of money by taking advantage of a system that was already in place and mailed to the parcels within 800 feet of a fire hydrant.
In January 2021, the Jasper County Treasurer and the Jasper County Auditor decided to remove the hydrant fee from the Jasper County tax bills forcing a change in how the hydrant fee is billed.
“In May and October, residents will see this charge on their utility bill,” stated the newsletter
The current fee is a minimum of $120 per year for residential homes, up to $720 per year for commercial properties.
It has been over 20 years since the Town of DeMotte started the process for its first public water supply. For several years prior, the Town of DeMotte was pressured by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to create a safe public water supply for the town. In the state of Indiana, DeMotte was the largest municipality without a public water supply.
“It was a record we were not proud to have,” added the newsletter. “Every business and school that served the public had to do a minimum of quarterly testing to prove that the water supply they were giving to the public was safe. These tests are much more detailed than those that are used to test our homes. Unfortunately, because of the state’s standard, it was getting harder and harder to pass the required tests. Daycares had to shut down because the well was insufficient to have their business open. The schools needed to bring in water for the students. Restaurants were having difficulty passing the tests and meeting state standards. Not to mention, the appearance of the water was deficient.”
In 2003, all of that changed. The State of Indiana approved the creation of the Northwest Jasper Regional Water District. A public water supply project was moving forward. The DeMotte Town Council formed a regional water board. The long road of approvals, construction permits, and getting users was initiated. The USDA then allowed NORWEJ to borrow funds from Rural Development by setting a rate that was acceptable to their standards. The grant money given was dependent on the rate that rural development has set. If the rate was too low, fewer grant funds were available.
In 2012, the construction began on the water plant and service lines. DeMotte was no longer the largest community without a public water supply. Wells and a plant structure appeared on 700 W, and service lines were installed in front of homes.
Today a new water supply is needed. Out of the three wells that were installed, well #1 can no longer be used. It is high in ammonia and can not pass a bacteria test. Wells No. 2 and 3 are still fine, but there are levels of ammonia in the water that needs to be treated. The quality of the water forces the chlorine to attach to the ammonia first. The leftover chlorine in the water will then remove the bacteria. The system must maintain a level of chlorine. This forces the system to add additional chlorine to the water to meet the state standards. This process causes a disinfectant byproduct, used chlorine, which may cause an issue for the water supply quality.
The newsletter states that it is the board’s mission to provide water that is safe and needs the least amount of treatment.
The NORWEJ board, with the advice of water experts, decided to construct a new well site that has three deep wells in the DeMotte Industrial Park. This new site will not be influenced by groundwater because of the depth of the wells. The water quality is very comparable to the current supply. However, ammonia levels are much improved. Therefore, the treatment process will improve. The new treatment plant and extension of water lines will cost an estimated $5 million. The whole financial burden was being put on the ratepayers. The use of the hydrants is not exclusive to only those on the water supply.
The NORWEJ Board made a decision to have everyone within 800 feet from a hydrant share part of this cost. The board initiated a rate study by the firm Baker Tilley.
In September of 2019, the board was presented with a rate ordinance. A public hearing was held in October 2019, and the ordinance was adopted. In January 2021, the ratepayers realized the first increase to their water bill in seven years. The parcels within the designated area were charged the fire protection charge on the 2020 tax bills. This charge does not benefit the Keener Township Fire Department. The NORWEJ board is also starting two additional projects. The I-65 extension and the extension out to Kankakee Valley High School. These projects are being funded by the new users connecting to the system and not the current ratepayers.