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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

EDC leader weighs in on Elkhart’s sewer compact fee issue

The president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County is waiting to see how the city of Elkhart's sewer compact fee policy dispute shakes out.

Posted on April 19, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 19, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.

ELKHART — While city, county and state leaders go back and forth about Elkhart’s fees for water and sewer services for customers outside of city limits, the leader of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County is playing the waiting game.

Elkhart mayor Dick Moore recently briefed the EDC’s Board of Directors on the latest news revolving around the city’s sewer compact fee policy, a contentious issue that has had some businesses up in arms. The mayor decided last week to halt all new applications for water and sewer connections outside of the city for municipal services. How it all shakes out will determine how the EDC markets the area and where infrastructure, growth and development will occur, according to EDC president Dorinda Heiden-Guss.

Since Moore’s announcement more than a week ago, the city’s utility office has denied water and sewer connections for six people who called after the moratorium was declared.

“Certainly, some of them are not happy,” city engineer Mike Machlan said.

Two developers, one residential and one commercial, were seeking extensions on projects and were denied. In those cases, neither project was considered “imminent,” Machlan said.

Heiden-Guss said that “a few” companies, including prospective commercial enterprises, have contacted the EDC about the sewer compact fee issue.

“One gentleman told me he stayed at a hotel in South Bend, and he pulled up the news and saw heated discussions on sewer and water issues,” Heiden-Guss said. “And he says, ‘Can I put a business here? Will it get infrastructure? It looks concerning.’ So, those are the types of issues that we get to deal with on a regular basis.”

For now, Heiden-Guss said the issue is in the hands of the mayor, the city council and State Rep. Tim Wesco, who introduced a legislative amendment that would allow customers outside of city limits to appeal rates for services set by municipalities.

Heiden-Guss described the environment for drawing new businesses to the area as “challenging.” The key to helping existing businesses and attracting new companies is a “balanced, friendly and welcoming approach,” she said.

“If you don’t have that, that curtails or delays opportunities and investments,” she explained. “Right now, the market is such that we have a number of projects in the works, and we don’t want to derail anything. You don’t want to miss opportunities. You want to capture them.”

Nevertheless, Heiden-Guss believes the dispute will be resolved, and she has faith that the outcome will be positive.

“How they get there may take longer than we would like it to be, but growth and development will still continue, and I’ve got to believe that based on the efforts that have been made to date,” she said. “I would like to think everybody’s moving forward on this.”

If they’re not, Heiden-Guss added, it could bring the area’s growth and development to a standstill.

Reporter Dan Spalding contributed to this article.

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