GOSHEN — The city of Elkhart unsuccessfully tried to gain right of way access to 14 properties late last week to shut off sewer service to homes that have a dispute with the city over its new policy for utilities outside of city limits.
Jeff Taylor, head of the Elkhart County Highway Department, confirmed that the city requested Friday, May 3, to disconnect services to a group of houses in the Valley View Hills Subdivision. City officials had threatened to begin cutting sewer lines in March connected to homes where residents have refused to agree to Elkhart’s new compact fee policy.
“I mentioned to you in an email that our office is not going to take any action on this,” Taylor told the county commissioners Monday, May 6.
The county commissioners, along with health officer Dr. Daniel Nafziger, have opposed the city’s attempt to sever sewer lines, standing by concerns that it would create a health hazard for residents if sewage flows into yards or backs up in houses.
“I think an elementary school student would be able to sort that out,” Nafziger told the commissioners.
County commissioner Mike Yoder said there has been discussion that disconnecting sewer services would have similar effects as shutting off gas or electric utilities. But Nafziger said the results could be much worse.
“I think there are more immediate health impacts on the homeowners themselves or their family and also on their neighbors compared to shutting off gas or electricity,” Nafziger said.
Though the commissioners have encouraged homeowners to sign an agreement with the city, Rodino said the issue remains between the mayor and the residents. The county’s stance is based solely on health concerns, he added.
“We have nothing to do with that, nor do we want anything to do with it,” Rodino said.
In a letter sent to Elkhart mayor Dick Moore and city council members April 1, the commissioners asked city leaders to reconsider disconnecting sewer hookups. The commissioners said, as a last resort, the city could obtain a court order to force compliance with the utility policy.
“The simple message from the commissioners to those 14 homeowners is you need to sign the agreement, and it may be too expensive, I don’t know, but there’s no other alternative. Eventually there’s going to be a court order. State law is clear,” Yoder said, adding that he believes a court would rule in favor of the city.
No one from the city of Elkhart or Valley View was at Monday’s commissioners’ meeting.