ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore touted his newest plan to end the compact controversy and accused State Rep. Tim Wesco of meddling in city affairs.
Moore spoke to the Elkhart Rotary Club Monday, April 1, 2013 and explained the history of the compact policy and why he’s chosen to adopt a new name, PILOT, which stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes, for the fee charged to commercial customers outside of the city for sewer and water service.
The name, Moore said, more accurately explains the purpose of the fee.
At the same time, Moore added, “compact has become a dirty word, I guess.”
Wesco, a Republican from Osceola, is working to add an amendment to one of two bills in the state legislature that would cap sewer fees for commercial customers outside of the city at 300 percent of what city customers pay. His efforts are a reaction from business owners who have complained vehemently about the rate hike, which they contend could make it impossible to continue to operate or could force them to relocate.
An ordinance passed last year is an attempt to shift about 63 companies from an arrangement in which they pay 300 percent of what would be paid in the city to an arrangement that 75 other companies have been paying for years. Under the compact/pilot program, the companies would pay a fee based on assessed property value.
A week ago, Moore proposed reducing that formula from 75 percent to 50 percent and renaming it to PILOT. That proposal is the second effort to appease the business owners. An earlier attempt at compromise — approved by council last month — will phase in the fee increase over two years.
Moore’s newest plan, which will go to city council for review, incorporates the phase-in plan.
The original change was supposed to begin Jan. 1, but numerous city council members now regret its passage and at least one county official has expressed concern about the possible impact on industry and economic development.
Wesco said he’s trying to look out for the interests of business owners who don’t have a representative voice on city council.
Moore made it clear he doesn’t appreciate the effort by Wesco. He accused Wesco and others of “meddling in the affairs of the people of Elkhart.”
Wesco failed to consult the city before taking action and making comments Moore says he perceives as “threatening.”
He criticized the General Assembly for continuing to eat away at the philosophy of home rule, a concept that stresses the importance of local decision making on issues of local interest.
“Take away the city’s ability to do the things that people expect of us that make us an attraction to others and watch will what happen to economic development across this state,” Moore warned.
He also thinks Wesco could face a backlash for efforts against the city.
“I guarantee stopping the city from setting a cost on its own services where companies are free not to accept the services will lead to a reaction from the city’s representatives,” Moore said.
South Bend, compared to Elkhart, has only a handful of industries located outside of the city limits.
“I am not willing to give city services to those outside the city at wholesale prices when the people of Elkhart are paying retail,” Moore said.
Business owners and some Republican city council members say the believe the fee should be based on usage, but Moore said state law has changed and now prohibits municipalities to charge fees based on usage.
Moore also criticized the “media” for not explaining the compact fee issue very well. He said a Truth story comparing Elkhart’s compact policy made the city appear to be “dastardly.”