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Sunday, April 20, 2014

County official wants Wesco amendment removed

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder has asked a state lawmaker to withdraw an amendment being considered by the General Assembly that has angered Elkhart's mayor.

Posted on April 14, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 14, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

ELKHART — Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder has asked a state lawmaker to withdraw an amendment being considered by the General Assembly that has angered Elkhart’s mayor.

Yoder said he’d like to see State Rep. Tim Wesco withdraw language from a bill that upset Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore who retaliated last week by establishing an immediate moratorium on new water and sewer connections outside of the city.

Wesco’s amendment to Senate Bill 385 is an attempt to protect business owners who say they are facing huge hikes in sewer fees by the city of Elkhart for service outside of the city.

The amendment would give customers a chance to appeal rates and fees to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

One day after the state House of Representatives approved the amendment, Moore announced the moratorium. Moore contends the amendment would inhibit the city’s ability to raise revenues when it sells sewer service.

“There may or may not be some merit of what his amendment was intended to take care of, but the timing was really, really poor,” Yoder said Saturday.

Yoder said he’d like to see the amendment removed and the legislature look at the topic through a study committee.

With the moratorium in place, several business ventures are in jeopardy, Yoder said.

Moore was asked Friday to provide details on how many customers might be affected by the moratorium, but he did not respond with any statistics.

Yoder said some of the customers are located along the C.R. 17 corridor.

“If there is no movement, then we have a major problem,” Yoder said. “The county has the potential to lose some very important commercial projects in that corridor.”

Yoder said he believes Wesco is under pressure by others to pull the amendment.

Wesco confirmed that he spoke with Yoder, but declined to say whether he is being asked to have the amendment removed.

The Republican lawmaker from Osceola said he’s gotten positive and negative feedback on the amendment and said more people are upset with the moratorium than the amendment.

Moore, who has accused Wesco of “meddling” in the affairs of the city by introducing the amendment, is slated to meet with Wesco on Monday, April 15, in Indianapolis, according to Wesco.

Wesco said he was contacted by the Indiana Associations of Cities and Towns and asked to meet with Moore.

Wesco declined to say what might become of the meeting.

Wesco’s amendment is headed to a conference committee in the coming days where four legislators from both parties will attempt to work out final changes.

Yoder said he recently talked with Moore, who indicated the city might not be inclined to lift the moratorium until the amendment is pulled and progress is made with the city council which is seeking to revise the existing compact fee ordinance.

Moore has offered a new proposal that calls for reducing the formula used to calculate the fee from 75 percent of assessed value to 50 percent. Moore’s plan will be introduced Monday at the city council meeting, but little action is expected to immediately occur.

Moore on Friday indicated he would not comment on compact-related issues until the city council meets Monday night.

The issue of compact fees has simmered for months, but the amendment and the moratorium appear to have taken concerns inside and outside of the city to a new level.

“There’s a lot of raw emotions out there right now,” Yoder said.

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