Grant will help town tackle aging utilities

Justin Kiel

LaCROSSE – A small town in southern La Porte County is looking for ways to improve its aging utility infrastructure without a major increase in rates, which one Town Council members say are already high.

LaCrosse officials announced last week that the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs has awarded the town a $50,000 master utility grant. The funds will be used to evaluate the condition of the town’s utilities – water, sewer and storm sewers – to determine a future course of work.

The water infrastructure, more than 65 years old, is quickly reaching the point that it needs substantial repairs, council president Justin Kiel said.

The sewer infrastructure is in "far better shape," while stormwater infrastructure is "sporadic at best," he said in a statement.

“This grant award is the culmination of several years of work,” Kiel said. “The town has spent hundreds of hours to get to this point, from conducting an income survey which qualified us to apply, to working with talented individuals who produced the over-200 page application.

The planning grant, however, represented only the first step in what could be many to come, he said. Upon the completion of the planning grant in early 2020, the town would be eligible to apply for up to $700,000 in funds for construction of utility infrastructure.

That would be key in lessening any required rate increase.

“I think the entire council is very cognizant of the fact that we have high base utility rates in town right now," Kiel said, "and we’re working very hard to find creative solutions to update our water infrastructure, in particular, in a way that prevents rate increases and ensures our utilities are functional for years to come."

He cited the grant, the recent paying off of previous utility debt, and "dutiful maintenance of existing utility infrastructure" as ways the town has positioned itself to take on the next big project.

Town officials are also keeping an eye on developments in the state legislature that might lead to creation of new grant funds for local utility projects, Kiel said. They’ve also spoken with representatives from the State Treasurer’s Office about financing solutions that might be available.

The latest grant brings the running total of grants awarded to LaCrosse to over $325,000 in the past three years. Previous state and federal grant funds were used to resurface every street in town and to construct new sidewalk curb cuts in various locations.

Councilman Bob Wheeler was positive about the grant announcement.

“From road repairs to a new park to now, a master utility plan, this is by far the most progress I’ve seen our town make in the 30 years I’ve been on the council. I think we have a lot to look forward to.”

—From staff reports

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