GOSHEN — Elkhart’s skyrocketing fees to provide sewer service to commercial customers outside city limits seem to have become a barrier to development in parts of Elkhart County, according to county redevelopment commission member Randy Wilson.
Wilson told his fellow county leaders Thursday, Feb. 28, that they need to begin exploring alternatives for companies that have been discouraged by the fees.
“When folks find out about that, they just say ‘sorry,’ and they go someplace else, so I think it’s time to move,” he said.
One option worth considering, Wilson said, is building a new wastewater treatment plant east of the city in the Northeast Tax Increment Financing District. If a new treatment plant is constructed, companies would have a choice to hook up to the county’s sewer system rather than paying fees to the city of Elkhart, he said.
“It would appear that the compact fees are preventing businesses from coming in because the fees are just exorbitant, and people are backing away from it, so if we can’t come to some kind of compromise on this compact fee, then this could be the next step,” Wilson said.
The answer will not be clear until an ongoing study by Umbaugh and Associates wraps up. The redevelopment commission hired the consulting firm to work on a fiscal analysis of the city’s compact fees and how they affect development in the county. That study is expected to be finished in March.
“My feeling is it’s an impediment, and maybe that’s how Umbaugh’s study will come out, or maybe they’ll say it’s a 50-50 deal, but we still need to look at alternatives to move this forward because expediency is the key here,” Wilson said.
Wilson noted that he is “not slamming the door” on compromising with the city, adding that Elkhart’s leaders should be a major part of the conversation.
One Elkhart City Council member has already made her position clear. Councilwoman Mary Olson told the redevelopment commission that basing compact fees for commercial customers outside of city limits on assessed property values is an “outrageous formula.”
“What we’ve done now with this compact fee is an embarrassment,” Olson said.
Olson said a resolution will be introduced at the next city council meeting on Monday, March 4, asking leaders to allow the compact fees to be phased in over time.
“This is where it becomes a dilemma for me personally,” Olson said. “I don’t think that’s a fix to the problem. It’s a little bitty Band-Aid on a big problem.
“My concerns are very simple. Elkhart is a wonderful city, and we are not treating our business community the way we should,” she said.