Warsaw Council passes amended utility rate hike proposal

An amended ordinance to increase the utility rate in Warsaw passed its first reading at the Warsaw Common Council Monday night.

This comes after an original proposal to increase wastewater rates at 19% was rejected at the October 17 Council meeting. Landlords in attendance at that meeting spoke out against the proposal, who were upset over a “base fee” for each apartment unit they own plus a charge based on water usage.

RELATED: Warsaw City Council rejects rate hike for $41M sewer project

The amended proposal faced over an hour of debate before being passed on a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Frush and Klondaris voted against the ordinance, citing concerns that it was not “just and equitable.”

“We’re taking away how much we’re charging to some people, which throws out of balance what the homeowners have to pay,” Councilman Jack Wilhite said during the meeting.

Despite that statement, Wilhite voted in favor of the proposal, because he says its a vote for “safety and health” which is “paramount”.

Council Jeff Grose believes a billing issue plays a role in the matter.

“Every dwelling unit should receive a sewage bill. I do not believe that is happening,” said Grose. “I do not think I can convince this board, I do not think I can convince this community that’s what we should do.”

Still, he also voted in favor of passing the proposal.

Warsaw’s City Planner was in attendance, and was called upon for his insight during the ordinance debate.

“You guys are so far in the weeds I don’t know if you can get out of them,” said Jeremy Skinner. “What you’re proposing to pass makes someone in a duplex pay more than someone in a four-plex or eight-plex, how is that equitable?”

To those concerned, Councilwoman Diane Quance said additional details are still to be worked out.

“We are going to have an increase, and how that is distributed…we don’t know. We will know when we go to make that next decision,” Quance said.

But experts hired by the city to review the ordinance cautioned that the Council cannot amend it upward at the November 20 meeting, meaning they cannot return to the original proposal now that the amendments have passed. The Council still could adjust the rates downward if desired.

This was a problem for Councilman Klondaris, who said “if you give a break to some people, you can never get it back.”

“By passing this, I think you threw out the equitable part of ‘just and equitable’,” he advised fellow Council members.

“All of this is about two dollars, you can’t pay two dollars more?” Klondaris said. “I just don’t see how we got to this point. I think there’s been a lot of disinformation…and people buy into that stuff.”

Klondaris was singled out by Chad Zartman, a Warsaw landlord who frequently attends and speaks out Council meetings.

“You’re ridiculous, to be honest. You don’t understand tenants at all. you come from money,” said Zartman.

Councilman Klondaris responded to Zartman’s remarks, calling them “out of line, totally.”

In addition to the passage of the amended utility rate hike ordinance, an amended ordinance for the sewage works bond also passed a Council vote.

Both ordinances are part of a larger plan to pay for a massive sewer project for the city.