Bloomington utilities board welcomes familiar face, gets quick update on rate case

At its regular meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s seven-member utilities service board (USB) welcomed Kirk White, who was appointed by mayor John Hamilton to fill Jason Banach’s seat.

The board also got a brief update on the city’s proposal to increase Bloomington’s water rates, which is currently under the standard review process by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson told the board about the IURC rate case review: “We’re still in the midst of discovery, and we’ve been getting a lot of questions and data requests to handle.”

Kelson added, “So we’ve been hard at work on those for the last couple of weeks. And so far, it seems to be going pretty well.”

The city of Bloomington’s onBoard system shows that Banach served on the USB since at least January 2007

Before Monday’s meeting got started, which was held with all board members attending by Zoom video conference, White responded to some words of welcome from others. White said when he served on the Bloomington city council, he was the city council’s non-voting ex officio representative to the USB. That’s a role currently filled by council president Jim Sims.

At its Monday meeting, the USB adopted a policy that would allow for some limited participation in meetings via Zoom by board members, even after the governor’s health emergency expires at the end of the month.

White served on the Bloomington city council from 1988 to 1995, representing District 2. Outgoing USB member Jason Banach represented the same district for the decade immediately following White. Both men served as Republicans. While the USB at one time had a partisan balancing requirement, it no longer does.

The other bit of background shared by Banach and White is their affiliation with Indiana University. Banach is Indiana University’s director of real estate. White is vice president for strategic partnerships.

White is likely somewhat more familiar to the public now than a year ago, because he has been the face of IU for the weekly Friday press conferences held by local leaders on COVID response. White is the Bloomington campus lead for the university’s COVID Response Unit (CRU).

Indiana University is a key player in Bloomington’s rate case, because the university is opposed to paying the substantially higher rates proposed by Bloomington. IU’s petition to the IURC, to be granted status as an intervenor, has been granted, along with that of Washington Township Water Authority (WTWA).

WTWA’s petition is based on the fact that Bloomington is the sole water supplier to WTWA. That means, according to its petition, “Washington Township Water has a critical and substantial interest in the requested increase in Bloomington’s wholesale rates and charges.”

IU’s petition for intervenor status was based on the university’s “substantial interest in the subject matter of this proceeding.” The university’s petition continues, “Indiana University is a large volume institutional customer of Bloomington’s water utility and, in fact, is treated as a distinct customer under the proposed schedule of rates and charges.”

The proposed rate increase, approved by the city council in March, would mean a water rate increase in two phases, in 2022 and 2024. Residential customers would pay a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years. Other customers like Indiana University, will see higher increases, around double what residential customers will see.

The nitty gritty of the scheduling and the developments in the rate case can be tracked on the IURC’s webpage dedicated to Bloomington’s rate increase proposal.

The intervenors have to pre-file their prepared testimony and exhibits on or before July 23. Bloomington has to pre-file its prepared rebuttal testimony on or before Aug. 20. The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to start on Sept. 27 and will continue, if needed, on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29.

In other action taken by the USB on Monday, a new policy was approved that is tangentially related to the topic of annexation.

Under the IURC’s administrative rules on main extensions, Bloomington has to provide service to all customers who request service and are located inside its city limits.

Under its old policy on service extension, CBU was giving itself greater discretion to determine whether to extend to prospective new customers—whether they were located inside or outside of city limits.

Under the new policy, the CBU continues to have discretion on whether to serve a prospective customer outside the city limits.

Assistant city attorney Chris Wheeler described extensions inside the city limits under the new policy: “We don’t get to decide if we’re going to extend. We are going to allow the extension to occur.”