GOSHEN -- If you can't beat city hall, seek help from county officials.
Stymied thus far in their efforts with the city of Elkhart for a reduction in what they say are unduly high sewer rates, a group of residents living outside the city are doing just that. They asked Elkhart County comissioners on Monday to take up their cause.
"We ask you to fully investigate this issue," said the formal appeal, delivered to commissioners by Stephen Fader, chairman of the Valley View Hills Neighborhood Association. Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore and other city officials, the neighbors hope, "will open their doors and will listen to county representatives."
The county leaders agreed to send a letter to their city counterparts asking for justification of the sewer rates in question. Those living in unincorporated Valley View just outside Elkhart -- south of the Benham Avenue-C.R. 20 intersection -- are county residents, after all.
But Commissioners Terry Rodino and Mike Yoder said the neighbors would be better served by hiring an attorney. They also questioned the impact any letter they write would have.
"We'll do what we can but I don't think it's going to be enough, I'm afraid," said Yoder.
At issue are the fees the Valley View residents pay for sewer service from the city of Elkhart -- three times the rate paid by residents inside the city.
Though he understands they should pay more since they don't live within city limits, 300 percent is excessive, Fader thinks. Previously, the residents paid between 150 to 300 percent of the normal rate and before that, some had paid a premium of just 33.3 percent. After the Valley View contingent approached city officials last year about stabilizing the rate for all of them at 150 percent of the norm, though, city officials boosted it across the board to 300 percent.
His monthly sewer bill, at 300 percent of the city rate, typically totals around $80, Fader said. Some of the 94 Valley View households pay upwards of $300.
"Who gave the city of Elkhart the authority to change the sewer rate from 33.5 percent above city rate to 300 percent above city rate?" the appeal to the county officials asks. The neighbors also wonder under what authority city of Elkhart officials apparently extended expired sewer rate contracts with individual Valley View residents.
A new city ordinance outlines a flat $50 monthly fee for sewer customers living outside Elkhart, on top of the regular fee. That might be palatable, Fader said, but it applies to zones that don't directly border Elkhart, not places like Valley View that abut the city.
Annexation, meanwhile, seems to be out of the question, even though Mayor Moore proposed the option. If part of the city, the Valley View residents would pay the lower sewer rate. But they'd have to pay city property taxes, though, and the majority of residents, according to Fader, don't want that.