Bill aimed at transparency in utilities dead in water

INDIANAPOLIS - A bill aimed at more transparency and accountability for water and other utilities is now dead in the water.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, drafted Senate Bill 548  in response to the Town of Mooresville taking over water service from Indiana American Water.

Some Mooresville residents and council members have been upset over rate increases, including a recent 17 percent increase for some homeowners.

Whitney Moorman, press secretary for Merritt, told Call 6 Investigators the bill failed to get a hearing in the Rules and Legislative Procedure committee.

“It’s dead,” said Moorman.

Mooresville town council voted on Christmas Eve to use eminent domain and file a lawsuit seeking to condemn and acquire Indiana American Water’s Mooresville Operation.

Indiana American Water has filed a lawsuit of its own against the Town of Mooresville alleging they violated due process and the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

Sen. Merritt told RTV6 earlier this month there has to be a better process for groups unhappy with their water utility’s rates or service.

“I really believe there ought to be transparency,” said Merritt. “I think there ought to be public discussion if there are service quality issues.”

Merritt said although the town council held public meetings on the topic, many people did not know about the town’s plans for taking over the water utility.

“It was through your coverage that I knew about this,” said Merritt.

The legislation would have allowed public utilities to petition for rate changes every three months instead of once a year, said Merritt.

“I cannot see any transparency in this bill,” wrote town council member Virginia Perry in an email to RTV6. “What I see is the ability to change the fees more often. Rather than once a year, now three times a year. This bill is not taxpayer friendly by any means.”

The legislation also says a municipality can’t buy a water company’s property unless the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission finds the company repeatedly violated regulations, or if a review shows the utility failed to fix severe deficiencies.

“Water today is going to become more and more of an issue in the cost of it and the availability of it,” said Merritt.

The legislation also requires a municipality considering acquisition of a utility to submit the question to the public.

“The water industry in Indiana, including our company, is supportive of this (bill),” wrote Joe Loughmiller, spokesperson for Indiana American Water, in an email to RTV6.

 

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6 | Facebook: Kara-Kenney-WRTV

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