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Great Lakes Article:

Water company customers protest rate hike
By Lorell Fleming

GARY - Indiana-American Water Co. customers opposed to the company’s proposed rate hike let loose a flood of dissent during a public hearing on the matter Tuesday at Indiana University Northwest.

Ten customers, mostly from Gary, voiced their objections during Tuesday’s hearing held by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Three others submitted their opposition in writing to be entered on the official record.

Indiana-American is asking the state regulators to allow the water company for a 14.7 percent rate increase for its Northwest Indiana customers. The investor-owned water company has customers in Burns Harbor, Chesterton, Gary, Hobart, Merrillville, Portage, Porter and South Haven.

The water company is seeking the rate increases to recoup the cost of purchasing both the Northwest Indiana Water Co. in 1999 and the Turkey Creek water utility in 2002. The money generated by the increase would also pay for operating, maintenance and higher security costs.

About two years ago, the water company raised the rates by 38 percent with the approval of state regulators. An immediate 18.1 percent jump was followed later by a 20.2 percent jump.

Indiana-American got that rate increase to recover the costs of building a new intake tunnel into Lake Michigan.

There was no sympathy for the water company at Tuesday’s hearing.

"They had two raises once they bought the company. Now they want another one?" said Gary resident Katherine Williams.

The company wants to raise rates in other communities throughout Indiana also. Most of those proposed rate increases are more than the 14.7 rate jump sought for the company’s Northwest Indiana customers.

Final say on utility rate increases rests with the IURC.

"I find it very offensive that we have a government agency that allowed a private entity to buy something and then have us pay for it," said customer Booker Douglas of Gary. "That’s robbery."

The IURC is expected to make a decision on the proposed rate hike sometime after April 19.

The consumer counselor’s office is the state agency that represents customers in utility rate cases. The office has to file its written testimony with the IURC by Feb. 24.

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