Elkhart ready to cut service to residents in sewer dispute
Posted: 03/17/2013 at 7:00 pm
By: Dan Spalding
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Jon Nelson holds a letter he received from the city Saturday threatening to shut off is sewer service if he doesnít sign a compact agreement with the city of Elkhart. A dozen people met Sunday afternoon to plot their strategy. (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding)
Elkhart City Councilman David Henke listens during a meeting Sunday concerning residential compact fees. (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding)
On Friday, the city sent out a sixth warning letter urging the Elkhart County residents to agree to the city compact and warned city workers would begin shutting off service Wednesday, said Laura Kolo, utility services manager said.
The city had set a March 15 deadline, which passed Friday.
Door tags were also distributed to the residents who have not complied.
The letters included a detailed list of steps that will be taken prior to the shut off and white lines have been painted in front of some homes where sewer lines exist that might be modified.
The letters, tags and paint appear to be the next-to-last chapter in a neighborhood dispute that has lingered for years and peaked in recent weeks as the city attempts to shift all residential customers from sewer service agreements to a compact policy.
“I would rather bite down on a jalapeno pepper than sign this” said Jon Nelson who helped organize a meeting Sunday with about a dozen residents in the subdivision at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on Mishawaka Road.
The utility department estimated Friday more than 75 percent of residential customers had complied. Many of those customers live in Valley View, which includes about 90 or so homes.
The change in policy means residents would begin paying a $50 compact fee plus a charge for sewer service based on usage. Under the old agreement, residents pay three times what city residents pay.
While it appears the average household would pay slightly less under the compact, residents say they don’t like being coerced and specifically dislike a provision in the agreement that would prohibit them from protesting if the city would ever choose to annex the property.
Nelson said he has begun contacting the county health department, the state health department as well as a state legislator and U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski in hopes of gaining some support to halt the city’s plans.
Among those attending Sunday’s meeting were city council members David Henke and Brian Dickerson, who made a brief appearance, but did not speak.
Henke attended a previous meeting earlier this year when more than 100 area residents rallied to oppose the compact and has served as an unofficial liaison in the dispute.
Henke said he regrets the city has taken such an aggressive approach.
“The letter is about as threatening as it gets,” Henke said.
Some of those who attended the meeting said they signed the agreement under duress, but wanted to offer their support. One woman said she has three kids and did it for her children’s sake.
Two of the group’s organizers have signed, but indicated they did so under duress.
One of those was Steve Fader. He did not attend the meeting, but claimed in an email to The Truth that he believed he was being harassed by city officials.
Jay Corson and his wife, Valerie, signed because an elderly relative would be affected.
Some questioned the ethics of shutting off service.
“How can you make a house uninhabitable?” Jay Corson said.
Some residents, including Johnny and Judy Hence, said they believe county officials should step in and help.
The city letters indicated disconnections would begin on the north end of the subdivision Wednesday.
A woman who lives on Valley View Drive said she believes she will be the first to have service cut off if she chooses not to sign. She declined to identify herself and left the meeting still undecided, but admitted she might have to sign the agreement because she’s semi-retired and living on a fixed income.
Nelson encouraged the people to make their voices heard at Monday’s city council meeting.
Kolo said several people came in Friday to sign the agreement after they saw the door tags.
Some have attempted to sign the agreement with a note indicating duress, but the city has refused to accept documents with such language.