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Utilities official testifies to legislators

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

A Connersville Utilities official testified as an expert witness before a legislative committee about the need for more money to help cities with stormwater projects.

Brad Colter, utilities superintendent, went to Indianapolis on Tuesday and gave testimony to a Stormwater Management Task Force. It includes members of the state House of Representatives and Senate as well as city officials and stormwater system operators from around the state. The group’s job is to investigate how the costs of mandated changes to stormwater system are affecting the state’s cities and towns.

Many years ago, the federal government required that separate systems be built to collect and treat stormwater and wastewater. It’s been very costly, especially in cities like Connersville. Most of the cost is paid by local rate payers, Colter said.

For instance, Colter told the task force, Connersville has already spent millions of dollars to separate the systems – as is being done on the north part of Grand Avenue this year – and has 12 years to finish the work. It’s expected that the city will need to spend $12 million to $15 million more to finish the project.

“We are trying to explain to the committee the burden that this is on local communities,” Colter said.

He and others who gave testimony believe there is a strong chance that the task force will recommend putting $6 million into the budget that the Office of Community and Rural Affairs – OCRA – uses for stormwater grants. They also want to expand the availability of low-cost financing through the Indiana Finance Authority’s state revolving loan fund.

Colter, who was asked to testify because of his 35 years in stormwater work, said he believes the task force understood the issues and is sympathetic to cities. This meeting was the fourth held by the committee.

The task force will now make a report with recommendations to the speaker of the House, who will then decide how to handle it during the upcoming legislative session.

“This task force was a big deal,” Colter said. “I truly believe these recommendations will be taken seriously. The Indiana Finance Authority did a study of the costs and how they are affecting municipalities and the House realizes the shortfalls.”