Focus on Elkharts sewer fee dispute shifts back to city from statehouse
Posted: 04/26/2013 at 1:40 pm
By: Dan Spalding
Despite the agreement, the ongoing commerical sewer controversy that has spanned nearly six months now moves back to city hall, where new questions and concerns are being voiced on how customers outside of the city should be treated.
State Rep. Tim Wesco announced late Thursday night, April 25, that language expanding the definition of what could be appealed to include compact fees had been removed from a bill.
Removal of the amendment was the key component of a deal struck this week by lawmakers and Mayor Dick Moore after a similar proposal had fallen through last week.
The amendment had been included in the final version of legislation and was removed on the second-to-last day of the General Assembly’s legislative session. Wesco said he asked for the wording to be removed.
As a result of the agreement, Moore agreed to lift part of a moratorium he established on April 10 that had ceased all sewer and water connections outside of the city.
In a statement to The Truth earlier this week, Moore said he intended to continue to prohibit connections that require extending lines. But he later said requests that appear to be a major benefit to the greater Elkhart area would be “given thoughtful consideration.”
The agreement ends several weeks of wrangling in which Moore accused Wesco of meddling in local affairs.
Moore now wants to establish a task force with representatives of businesses, local elected officials and even a state lawmaker who would draft an ordinance outlining the city policy for sewer service outside of the city. Moore wants the policy to take effect in April 2014.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers may very well study the issue over the summer in hopes of drafting legislation that would establish state-wide limits on the ability of municipalities to charge much higher rates for sewer service to customers outside of the city limits.
Wesco thanked Moore for helping come to a compromise, but said lawmakers will continue to watch developments in Elkhart.
“We look forward to reviewing the results of the mayor’s bipartisan study committee, as well as to what the Elkhart City Council chooses to adopt to address the concerns that have been raised by the city water and sewer users outside the city,” Wesco said.
City council members will likely have plenty to consider when they meet May 6.
Moore wants the 75 companies that are transitioning from a sewer service agreement to the more expensive compact policy to pay the equivalent of a city rate for the next year until a new policy is established. He called it a great deal.
However, councilman David Henke argues that such a change will require an ordinance approved by city council.
Another sore point for Henke and some businesses is that about 63 companies that have been on the compact policy for years will continue to pay that rate until a new policy is developed.
Henke and others claim that’s unfair and suggest those companies be provides with some relief.
Another complicating wrinkle involves companies that tap onto the city service in the next year. Moore wants those businesses to adhere to the existing compact ordinance that includes a temporary phase in of payments.
Some business owners who have staunchly opposed being shifted to the compact policy continued to voice support for the amendment Thursday, saying that leaving some companies on the old policy would be unfair.
Moore expressed reluctance to comment further on some of the details surrounding the issue, but said the task force would be bipartisan in its makeup.
Asked if council action might be needed for the 75 companies to pay the city rate, Moore issued the following comment through an email: “State law outlawed Sewer Service Agreements as of January 1, 2013. That eliminated the 3x charge. No council action is necessary.”
Henke said that Moore’s interpretation is simply wrong.
Moore said he didn’t want to comment further for fear it could affect the work of the task force.