Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 14, 2014

Public could decide Russiaville utility sale

Town officials will take comment Monday.

A petition drive could force a referendum vote on the sale of Russiaville’s town-owned water utility, potentially killing a planned deal with Indiana-American Water Company.

The Russiaville Town Council has a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the town community center to hear from residents on a planned sale to Indiana-American.

The sale would net the town just over $900,000, but opponents of the sale say the price wouldn’t justify the loss of local control over rates.

The Utility Workers Union of America has been canvassing for a petition drive and union officials claimed Wednesday they’ve gotten more than 160 signatures from town residents.

Under state law, the public can force a referendum on the sale of a publicly owned utility through a petition drive, and union officials say they have more than enough signatures.

Town Council President Jeff Lipiniski said Thursday the council will hold a referendum if enough signatures are counted, but also said the sale of the utility to Indiana-American would benefit Russiaville.

“It’s hard to make this kind of decision,” Lipinski said. “I’ve lived in this town my whole life, except when I went away to college, and my parents live here. I don’t want to put them in a position where [the water utility] is going to strap them with high fees.”

“We commend the citizens of Russiaville for stepping forward to make certain that any decision this important should be made by all of the voters, and not merely by members of the Town Council,” Mike Langford, UWUA national president, said. “We believe the sheer number of voters signing petitions indicates strong opposition to any sale of one of the community’s most valuable assets — its public water system —to an out-of-state, private corporation.”

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