City of Elkhart ready to waive debt to RV Hall, restructure sewer payments

Though the deal isn't yet done, Elkhart has generally agreed to forgive the RV/MH Hall of Fame's sewage debt and to reduce rates starting next year.

Posted on Sept. 16, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Though the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s finances have drastically improved, they’re still a long way from being out of debt and the city of Elkhart has tentatively agreed to ease the hall’s sewage bills and forgive unpaid bills.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore said he views waiving the unpaid $115,000 debt as a contribution to the RV industry.

“We believe it’s justified. We’re doing it for the RV industry,” Moore said. “We just need to reach some kind of agreement and get them paying again.”

Darryl Searer, president of the hall of fame, said he’s met with Moore twice and with other city officials since then. Like the others the hall owes money, “They’ve all been extremely helpful and all want the hall of fame to succeed. I’ve really been tickled that they’ve come forward and supported the hall of fame,” Searer said.

When Searer took over leadership of the hall in March, the money owed to primary creditor 1st Source Bank was $828,000, he said. “The bank balance today is $283,000,” Searer said.

“We’re still in debt,” both to the bank and to the Ingram family, who agreed to not take any payments until after the bank loan is paid. “I’d like to get them paid,” Searer said.

He’d also like to resume payments to the city, though that amount remains unclear. The formal agreement hasn’t been signed, and it depends somewhat on county assessments of the hall’s value, which Searer said had included an overstatement of the hall’s acreage.

Under the agreement, Moore said the city would also agree to reduce the payments significantly.

Payments are based on assessed property value and the city’s formula left the hall facing $5,000 monthly payments under the previous agreement.

The hall stopped making payments in November, 2009, and the city then placed a lien against the hall, seeking $115,000, Moore said.

Moore said the new arrangement would reduce the monthly payments to somewhere between $1,800 and $2,500.

With the reduction in assessment, though, Searer said the proposed new deal could make that figure more like $800 to $1,000 a month.

Moore said he’d rather see an agreement than have the dispute end up in court.

He said he expects to be criticized over the deal, given the city’s budgetary constraints in recent years.

“It’s a tough call,” Moore said.

The hall was on the verge of closing in 2009, but with concessions by the Ingram family and 1st Source and with a large fundraising push this year, it’s turning things around, Searer said.

The hall is focusing on drawing in more events. Last month’s Midwest RV Super Show brought 1,300 visitors to the hall, and next week’s RV Open House Week will also bring more visitors. Searer said he’s continuing the fund-raising campaign in hopes of retiring debt and getting the hall on solid footing, and the city’s moves will be a big help for the nonprofit organization.

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