REDKEY — Town sewer rates are slated to be raised by 20%.

Redkey Town Council voted Thursday to increase the sewer rate in an effort to pay for necessary upgrades and future projects.

It also approved a plan to address sewer overflow issues into Redkey Run, which prompted the rate hike.

A large-scale project to separate combined storm and sewer lines in the town and to revamp the sewage plant was completed late last year. However, in January, council was informed that the town was still experiencing problems with untreated sewage overflowing into Redkey Run.

Because the town’s agreed order with Indiana Department of Environmental Management had expired, council needed to indicate it was continuing to work on the issues. It drew up a document outlining its plans to mitigate the overflow in an effort to avoid citations from IDEM.

According to the document, the town plans to remove houses from combined sewer overflows over the next few years. Additional inflow sources identified by smoke testing are slated to be eliminated by the end of 2023. If any further sewer rehabilitation is needed after these measures, the town is proposing to push that back until 2024.

“If in the investigations while we’re eliminating all of the houses and the illicit connections to the sanitary sewer, if we’re still having overflows after 2023, then there could be a sewer rehabilitation project in 2024,” said Mitch Hansel of Fleis & VandenBrink.

That project, if needed, would likely require the town to apply for grants from the state. Such grants would require a match from the town, which council president Terri Taylor noted would be difficult to provide.

“We have tremendous issues that we don’t have the money to pay for,” Taylor said. “We can’t even match grants anymore.”

Taylor made a motion to raise the sewer rates by 10% this year and an additional 5% next year, then rescinded that to propose a 20% increase this year. The base sewer rate is $51.70 a month.

Council discussed the issue at length, noting that the rates had not been increased since 2015; the state recommends a 3% yearly increase.

According to clerk-treasurer Debbie James, the town spends more of the sewage fund than it earns; its revenue so far this year is $89,163.45, while it has disbursed $117,528.61.

Town attorney Wes Schemenaur urged council to consider a rate increase at least every other year moving forward.

“You’ve got to have enough money not only to pay for the service, but also the state requires you to keep some money back for repairs and upgrades,” he said. “Nobody wants to gouge or feel like you’re gouging your neighbors, but you know, you’ve got to have some money in the bank to put back in savings if you’re going to plan.”

Council members and town employees expressed “not liking” the increase, but saw no choice but to raise rates. Still, the approval came on a split vote, with Erik Hammers, John Pierce and Taylor voting in favor of the raise and Gary Gardner and Randy May voting against it.

The town will have a public hearing on the increase in the coming months.

In other business, council members:

•Heard that the town will be mailing letters to residents who have fallen behind on their utility bills. The town is not allowed to disconnect utilities or charge late fees during May and June, but is currently scheduled to restart those processes on July 1.

•Learned that James plans to reopen Redkey Town Hall on June 1. One customer will be allowed in at a time and masks will be required. Town hall has been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

•Approved a request from Doug and Landra Fraley to connect a line for their property on county road 600 South to the town’s sewage system. The Fraleys will cover the entire cost of the addition and will pay the monthly fee of $51.70 for an unmetered user. The request still needs to be approved by Jay County Commissioners.

•Tabled removing the $50 inspection fee for new sewer lines from the town’s ordinance after the proposal was voted down 3-2. Pierce, who cast the deciding vote, said council needed to discuss the issue further.

•Voted to order four “slow, children at play” signs to be installed in town, including in the alley between Meridian and Union streets and around Redkey Morgan Park.

•Accepted Hatzell Bros.’ bid to replace the roofs on two park buildings at a combined cost of $12,700; because of damage to the roofs, the town’s insurance will cover a portion of the cost.

•Heard about Taylor’s work to install new playground equipment at Redkey Morgan Park. She told council she had decided on a new playset and is seeking grants to help pay for it. In light of Taylor’s playground project, she took over departmental oversight of the parks department (previously May’s domain) and switched May to oversee the fire department.

•Heard that the Redkey Fun For Kidz Memorial Day Circus has been canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. Currently, the Redkey Festival Committee is moving forward with Gas Boom Days, scheduled to begin Aug. 15.

•Discussed converting Oak Street from a one-way street to a two-way street, at the request of some residents. However, council determined the street is not wide enough to accommodate both two-way traffic and street parking.