Trafalgar Town Council cracks down on bulk water purchases

Trafalgar officials want to crack down on the town’s lack of accountability for contractors buying bulk water from the town.

Jessica Jones, the town council president, claims contractors who purchase water from the town might not be accurately reporting their water purchases to the town, and officials have no system in place to regulate that.

Town or city utilities typically sell water in bulk to contractors that fill pools, home builders, or a company that transports water to under-served areas. These contractors are buying water in thousands of gallons at a time to transport.

Different municipalities have different systems for how to monitor and bill the contractors purchasing the water. Trafalgar has always been on an “honor system,” officials say. Contractors who purchase bulk water from Trafalgar could fill up at any fire hydrant in the town, and then call the town utility superintendent to report how much they took. The town would then bill the company.

The Trafalgar Town Council on Monday held a special meeting to discuss these concerns and talk about ways to track bulk water purchases.

Jones said at the meeting that this has been an ongoing issue that was last discussed in April, May and June last year, but it never went anywhere.

Jones said she has received photos from residents, and the town has security camera footage of contractors taking water from hydrants. She said it is unknown if the haulers are using their own meters, meters provided by the town, or if they are using meters at all to calculate how much water they are taking. She said it seems like based on the videos, the amount of trucks taking water from hydrants do not add up with the amounts billed.

“Because we don’t have really a policy in place to kind of manage that, it’s hard to tell what’s happening with that,” Jones said.

However, there is no formal evidence that proves wrongdoing by any particular company at this time.

There also appears to be an inconsistency in how water haulers are billed, based on the billing documents the council was provided with, council member Jeff Eisenmenger said. Trafalgar does not have set rates for bulk water haulers, like it does for residential utility rates. Based on a 2,000 gallon truckload, some haulers are paying across the board between $10 and $24.

Eisenmenger said there are several question marks associated with the entire situation, and it is a failure on the town’s part.

“We have no hardcore, factual truth to somebody stealing water. There’s a lot of question marks to be determined,” he said.

Jason Ramey, another town council member, was opposed to accusing any company of wrongdoing without evidence, saying Jones couldn’t prove her case. He was also against Jones proposing the town shut down providing bulk water purchases until the town set up new regulations.

He agreed some policies could be changed, but also cautioned that if the town makes it too difficult for haulers to purchase water, the town is going to lose that revenue.

“I am not interested in making unsubstantiated accusations against any small businesses. And I’m not interested in running any of them out of business, because there may be one who’s not doing it right,” Ramey said.

Jones has opened a criminal investigation with the Indiana State Police, she said. When she had approached the Trafalgar Police Department, she was told it was an issue for the town council to handle, she said. An ISP spokesperson could not confirm by deadline if an investigation has been opened as of Tuesday.

“This is too much of a ‘good ole boys’ town. This system’s too strong, and that’s why it’s always been an honor system. I’m over it. I’m done.” Jones said.

Several people filled the room for the special council meeting, from residents to contractors that haul water. Residents said they were concerned with how inaccurate bulk water billing was affecting their water bills.

Pamela Palmer questioned how the town has let this happen.

“I am personally offended that I pay my bill every month and there’s people out there (who are) getting it for free. How does that happen?” Palmer said.

Mike Morris, owner of H2Go, said he has not been stealing water, and said he would be fine with the town implementing a new system and more regulations. He recently started using a meter provided by the town, he said. H2Go offers water delivery service to Morgantown, Trafalgar, Bargersville, Franklin and Whiteland.

“Stealing water for me in the water delivery business would be just about the dumbest thing I could do. Because if I don’t get water, I have no commodity to sell,” Morris said.

Mike Smith, another resident, said the town should just cut its losses and set up a system to better regulate water haulers moving forward.

To temporarily solve the issue, the council voted unanimously on a motion by Jones to allow bulk water haulers to only fill up at the hydrant located at the water tower in town, which is watched by security cameras. Using any other hydrant will be considered unlawful. Council members also approved requiring contractors to report daily meter reading by phone to the town billing office.

Jones said more action will be taken at the council’s next meeting in July.