Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jon Nelson holds a letter he received from the city Saturday threatening to shut off is sewer service if he doesnít sign a compact agreement with the city of Elkhart. A dozen people met Sunday afternoon to plot their strategy. ¬ (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding) (AP)

The Elkhart Public Works and Utilities office on Nappanee Street as seen Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
Task force won’t look at residential compact fees
Posted on May 7, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 7, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.

ELKHART — The task force that will look into the commercial compact fee dispute will not consider changes to the residential compact policy.

Arvis Dawson, assistant to mayor Dick Moore, on Tuesday contradicted a statement by city council president Ron Troyer who on Monday night said he believed the task force would look into both commercial and residential policies for customers outside of the city.

Whether the task force would look at residential compact policy has been an issue for Valley View Hills resident Jon Nelson and others since the mayor’s office announced plans for a task force two weeks ago.

Nelson raised the issue Monday, but did not receive an answer.

Dawson and Moore both attended Monday’s meeting, but left before Nelson and others who are upset with the compact policy had a chance to offer public comment toward the end of the meeting.

Dawson said state lawmakers never mentioned the residential compact policy when seeking an agreement with the city last month that ended a standoff over possible state legislation.

Troyer said his comment was based on general conversations “that all compact fees would be addressed.”

Meanwhile, some details about the task force continue to be unclear as the Moore’s office works to finalize a list of participants.

Dawson said the city has filled all but one position on the task force, but has declined to name participants.

Whether the task force meetings will be open to the public remains unclear and will be decided by the administration, according to a clarification from Moore sent to The Truth Tuesday afternoon.

Troyer said he believes the meetings need to be open to the public, but said — as others have — that the need for further public input has been exhausted.

As the controversy has lingered over the past five months, almost every city council meeting has included comments and concerns from business owners on the issue.

Troyer said he hopes the task force can hash out a proposal and quickly send it to the city council for consideration.

Moore has been leery to discuss details about the task force since announcing it two weeks.

Questions of transparency coincided Monday with complaints by some business owners who questioned the makeup of the board and believe Moore is filling it with people who will side with his position on how commercial customers outside of the city should be charged for the right to use city sewer service.

Moore attended Monday’s city council meeting, but did not address any compact related issues.

Among those who have said they will participate on the task force are city council members Brian Thomas and Tonda Hines and State Rep. Tim Neese.

The task force will seek a solution on how the city should charge commercial customers outside of the city. The city prefers to charge an additional few with a formula based on assessed property value. The businesses claim those fees are too high and want a policy based on usage.

Meanwhile residential holdouts in Valley View appear to have very few options.

Without hope of changes via the task force, 14 homeowners who have refused to sign the city’s residential compact now face shut off as a result of a decision announced Monday by Elkhart County officials.

County officials say they plan to send letters to the residents urging them to sign the compact agreement with the city while at the same time, warning that the city is now in a position to cut off service.

The county had blocked the city’s efforts to cut off service for several weeks, citing health hazard concerns.

County officials have known the city has a legitimate authority to oversee its utilities, but an excavation application filed by the city last week set the stage for further review that could have ended up in court, said county attorney Gordon Lord.

The city and county are also working out a deal to protect the county from any liability if sewer service would be cut off, Lord said.

City attorney Maggie Marnocha said Tuesday she was unsure if the city would issue yet another warning letter.

The city issued at least six letters in recent months urging residents to sign the new agreement.

Some Valley View residents have expressed concern with the proposal because of costs and the waiver of annexation. Some have said they have signed under duress.

City officials contend monthly bills could be lower for some residents under the new compact arrangement compared to what they pay under the expired policy. They also contend that waiving the right to remonstrate against future annexation is standard in many communities.

Marnocha was unsure how soon the city might begin turning off sewer service for residents who don’t sign.

Nelson, a spokesman for the Valley View holdouts, said he doesn’t know how Moore can have the task force only look at part of the compact fee issue, but said he’s not giving up.

Valley View is a subdivision south of the city limits and has about 90 residential lots.