This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Council meetings

This week had an unusual meeting schedule: both the Rensselaer City Council and the Jasper County Council met. And both had public hearings. However, the item that will probably affect most Rensselaer residents was not one of the public hearings but a report from John Julien for Umbaugh Associates on a revised gas rate.

Mr Julien spoke as the Rensselaer City Council members followed him with a 25 page handout. He noted that it has been 14 years since Rensselaer last adjusted the rates for natural gas. During that time costs have changed, and the percentage of cost due to buying gas has decreased while the percentage due to delivering the gas, the cost of hiring people to work for the gas utility, has risen. In three of the last four years costs have exceeded revenues, so cash reserves of the utility have dropped a bit. They are now about $1.4 million, which is still healthy; he said that it would be dangerous for them to dip below $800,000. So a rate adjustment is not an emergency measure, but one that should be taken before the situation gets serious.

Rensselaer's rates are now very low compared to what other people are paying. The increases he is suggesting will bring us up to about the same level as NIPSCO customers are paying, and NIPSCO's rates are among the lowest of the big gas utilities. His proposal will increase rates in two steps and will be designed to solve two problems. There will be a 16% rise in stage one and and 8% rise in stage two. He said that would result in about an $11 increase in the average monthly bill. Most of the increase will be to cover the increase in costs of the gas utility but some will be to cover the costs of adding a second tap into the gas pipeline, something that has been discussed in previous City Council meetings.

The Council approved the first reading of the ordinance that will accomplish this increase. However, this is one of those issues that requires multiple votes. There will be a public hearing on the issue at which citizens can comment and there needs to be at least one more vote on the ordinance before it can take effect.

The public hearing that did take place at the City Council meeting was about the establishment of an economic revitalization area for the IMPA solar park north of Rensselaer. The Council had voted on this in the previous meeting, but again, this is one of those issues that requires a second, confirmatory vote. The only comments at the public hearing were for clarification of exactly what the process was and whether the vote included tax abatement. With no further comments, the Council voted to approve the district and to approve the Statement of Benefits that establishes the tax abatement. IMPA will invest about $6 million. For the first year, they will not be taxed on any of that $6 million. Then each year the abatement decreases by 10% so that at the end of ten years it disappears.

The public hearing at the Jasper County Council meeting had no comments. I was the only member of the public attending (I guess you could consider the new head of Jasper County Economic Development Organization as a member of the public, though he was there as part of his job), and I did not understand the ordinance that was being discussed. It involved property tax credits that got changed for those in the KV school district because of some unintended consequence of a 2015 law. The state legislature may vote to undo those consequences today (Wednesday) and if they do the County Council will meet again on Thursday to pass the ordinance that was under discussion. Sorry for not having a clear explanation but this is the best I can do.

I will try to follow up later this week with other a post on other things that happened at meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

I visited Sparling Avenue Monday to see what the workers were doing. The machines were next to Sparling and were still breaking up rock. I asked a man in a truck if they were laying pipe yet and he said that they needed to clear away the rock first. He seemed to be unhappy at the amount of bedrock just below the surface. I think as they go north the bedrock will fall way.
 Another sign of spring: Walmart is setting up their garden center in the parking lot.
 Winter is not quite finished with us. On Tuesday we got enough snow for it to cover the ground, though all of it that hit the streets seemed to melt. It seems to be telling the daffodils that they are still a bit early.
Fortunately we are not getting the heavy snows that the north east is getting or that Kentucky got a few days ago.

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