ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore has contacted Elkhart County officials to express his “deep disappointment” over the county’s intervention in the Valley View Hills sewer dispute.
Moore issued a letter to the county commissioners Thursday, March 21, and requested a meeting with them after the commissioners said they would not grant work permits in the county road right-of-way, a move that essentially prevents the city from turning off sewer service to residents who have refused to sign a new sewer agreement with the city.
The county intervened earlier this week, saying such a move would result in an immediate health hazard.
Moore said in his letter to the county that the city has postponed all work orders involving possible sewer disconnections until the dispute with the county is resolved.
Moore was expected to talk with the media at a 1 p.m. news conference Friday, but a statement from his office did not indicate what the subject of the news conference would involve.
In a three-page letter to the commissioners, Moore says he believes the county’s concerns are based on “incomplete and misleading news accounts and public relation that is based on misinformation.”
While the city has postponed plans to proceed with possibly disconnecting service, Moore said in his letter that “it is our view that the county is not allowed to arbitrarily deny a permit if the applicant meets all lawful permit requirements.”
The city warned customers last weekend that service would be cut off beginning Wednesday if they did not sign residential compact agreements.
Moore also referenced a 1992 interlocal agreement with the county involving installation of sewer lines and points out that city’s wastewater utility has taken title to the sewer facilities located in the county right of way and notes that the city has “maintained them ever since.”
With that in mind, Moore said Valley View customers are treated the same as all other customers and that they are subject to being disconnected from the system for failing to comply with the city ordinance.
County commissioner Frank Lucchese said late Friday morning that Moore’s letter skipped over the county’s biggest worry that cutting off sewer service to homes that do not have an alternative septic system would create a health concern.
“We’re not getting in the middle of the compact fight,” Lucchese said. “We’re just concerned that they’re creating an instant health issue by turning off the sewer service.”
City officials have expressed dismay that residents seem to ignore the fact most of their bills will decrease under the compact policy.
City councilman Dave Osborne said he finds their outlook “baffling.”
Moore said Friday afternoon he shares the potential health concern, but said that can be easily eliminated: “Sign your compact. Get you bill reduced. No health hazard.”
Moore said he will not negotiate with residents.
“If they don’t sign on, they deserve to be disconnected,” Moore said.
The effort to switch all customers to compact fees involves 134 residential customers, 92 of which are in Valley View.
According to the mayor, 17 customers in Valley View are among 24 who have not signed the compact agreement.
Moore pointed out that past agreements have already resulted in the residents waiving their right to remonstrate against annexation. He also points out that many of the residents could see a decrease in sewer charges under the new agreement compared to the existing agreement.
Elkhart County Sheriff Bradley Rogers and a representative of the county highway department visited the neighborhood at least twice this week and encouraged residents to call police if city crews appear to be trying to disconnect their sewer service.
Valley View residents have had a long-standing feud with the city over sewer service. Among their concerns is a provision in which they would not have a right to oppose any future annexation plans the city might seek.
Mayor Dick Moore's response to commissioners by elkharttruth