ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore has proposed a task force be created to look at the sewer compact dispute, but only if state legislators pull an amendment in a bill currently being considered in the Indiana General Assembly.
An agreement would give the city room to find a workable policy that serves commercial customers outside of city limits and lets state lawmakers look at a state-wide approach for next year.
But even if a deal is struck between the city and state, Moore said that doesn't mean he will lift a moratorium on new connections to sewer and water outside of the city.
Moore sent a letter to state legislators Thursday in hopes of resolving the city sewer compact dispute that has upset some city council members, Elkhart County officials and area state lawmakers.
Moore issued a moratorium last week preventing any new water and sewer connections outside of city limits after the state House approved an amendment that would allow commercial customers outside of the city to appeal rates and fees for sewer service established by municipalities.
Moore's moratorium was seen as leverage against the amendment sought by State Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola.
Moore did not mention the moratorium in his letter to lawmakers, but told The Truth he wants to keep it in place.
“It will remain in effect and it will be resolved by the committee,” Moore said, referring to the task force he want to establish.
“It will be the work of the committee that ultimately, if ever, gets the moratorium lifted,” he said.
Wesco's amendment has been part of Senate Bill 385, which has been in the final stages of approval. A conference committee was expected to make final changes on Monday in Indianapolis.
Moore's moratorium has upset some developers and representatives of Elkhart County who claim it is stopping some construction and leaving developers in a lurch.
Elkhart County commissioner Mike Yoder asked Wesco to pull the amendment a week ago.
City officials, along with representative of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, have been working with state lawmakers to come to a compromise on the amendment.
City council member Mary Olson, a Republican, said she hopes the amendment is dropped, but is not pleased to hear the moratorium will remain in place.
“I'm so disappointed,” Olson said. “The moratorium is an economic development and job killer,” Olson said.
Republican councilman David Henke expressed frustration over the moratorium and suggested Moore is trying to use it as a “trump card” against city council.
“I'm disappointed that a single person can create this much negativity ... while we try to get something accomplished,” Henke said.
If lawmakers don't agree to remove the amendment, Moore said he would rethink the administration's next move.
If lawmakers remove the amendment, Moore said, the 75 commercial customers being shifted to the compact policy would pay the city rate for a year until a new policy could be developed.
Moore said paying the city rate would be the only option because the sewer service agreements the companies were under — which charged 300 percent of what companies would pay if located in the city — have expired.
“They're getting a real break,” Moore said, referring to the 75 companies.
Sixty three other companies that have been on the compact agreement for years, though, would continue to pay the much higher sewer fee based on assessed value if a deal is struck between the city and lawmakers.
“We hoped to do better for them, but that's not the way it's going to go,” Moore said, referring to the 63 companies.
The task force would include more than a dozen people with representatives from the administration, city council, businesses inside and outside of the city, developers, elected county officials and a state representative from the area, according to Moore's letter to lawmakers.
Moore's offer represents the third effort on his part to quell opposition to an ordinance he supported and saw approved last November by city council.
Some council members have since expressed regret over the ordinance they passed, saying they did not fully understand the impact.
If the amendment is pulled, Moore said he hopes the task force can quickly begin developing a new plan that would ultimately be approved by council and implemented a year from now.