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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

LetterS to the Editor

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Utility transfer is right solution

On May 17, 18 City-County Councilors made a bold and courageous decision to approve an ordinance permitting the city to proceed with final negotiation of the transfer of the water and wastewater utilities to Citizens Energy Group in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

By voting to continue the discussion on this transformational project, councilors recognized our community simply cannot continue down the same path any longer. Water and sewer rates are on the rise, our neighborhood streets are deteriorating at a rapid pace and politicians have continued to pass the buck on making decisions that impact the fundamental elements of our city.

As deputy mayor of neighborhoods for Mayor Greg Ballard, I am involved in making good on the mayor’s promise to invest in our community at a level unprecedented in our city’s history.

Mayor Ballard has remained true to his promise, and the proposed transaction with Citizens Energy Group is a big reason why.

Under Citizens’ ownership, water, wastewater and even gas rates will be lower than currently projected due to efficiencies realized by operating five utilities under the ownership of one company. Additionally, the city will gain more than $425 million in revenues from the transfer that will be directly infused into improving our neighborhoods.

On May 11, Mayor Ballard previewed the planned investment into the city’s deteriorating infrastructure using revenue from the proposed transfer. This investment not only will rebuild crumbling streets, sidewalks and bridges and demolish unsalvageable abandoned homes, it will create local jobs and increase public safety.

For years, our community has complained about the neglect of our neighborhoods. Under Mayor Ballard, we are investing more dollars into our streets and sidewalks than ever before. Mayor Ballard isn’t going on about politics, he is going about the business of making our neighborhoods better and safer.

Some have said this is a privatization of our most precious assets. On the contrary, this transfer ensures the water and wastewater systems remain under the ownership of the residents of Marion County. Citizens is a public charitable trust, which means they operate like a not-for-profit and ultimately are accountable to its owners, the citizens of Indianapolis.

Just as Mayor Ballard has placed an emphasis on minority business during his administration, Citizens believes its success depends on diversity in its workforce, business partners and community. As both the city and Citizens move forward with the proposed transfer and infrastructure improvement projects, we will ensure goals for hiring minority, women and veteran-owned businesses are met.

The community will also benefit from Citizens’ commitment to improving the sewer system and water quality. Citizens will continue the required work to eliminate harmful sewage overflows into our rivers, streams, and backyards.

The debate of this transfer has been public and transparent in nature. Mayor Ballard and his team have held or attended more than 50 public meetings – many of them in the heart of our community. They have attended town hall meetings of councilors, and responded to councilor questions and those of the public. We created a web site, www.indy.gov/utilities, so people can learn more and access more than 500 documents detailing this proposal.

During the next month, while the final agreement is negotiated, the public debate will continue to be extremely important.

I urge the community to support this proposal because of the impact it will have on the future of our neighborhoods and the quality of life of our residents. Our neighborhoods are in dire need of an innovative solution that does not increase the burden on the pocketbooks of our residents.

Mayor Ballard’s proposal is the only one that spends more money in our community, while taking less money from our pockets. Our neighborhoods cannot wait any longer for improvements we have been requesting for decades. The time to act on this proposal is now.

Olgen Williams

deputy mayor


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