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County letter warns of June deadline in Valley View dispute

Elkhart County commissioners are warning a group of Valley View Hills residents the city could begin cutting off sewer service in June.

Posted on May. 9, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May. 9, 2013 at 1:04 p.m.

ELKHART — Valley View Hills residents are being warned by Elkhart County Commissioners that those who do not sign a new sewer agreement with the city of Elkhart could see their service shut off after June 2.

The county is in the midst of sending letters to 14 Valley View Hills subdivision residents who have so far refused to sign the new compact agreement, warning that efforts by the county to prevent the city from physically turning off sewer service will soon end.

The county has blocked efforts by the city for several weeks, but officials, in the letter dated May 8, inform homeowners that the impasse with the county would otherwise end up in court and that the city would likely win.

“The clearest cure to this standoff in the short-run is for you to sign a compact agreement with the City, as most of your neighbors have apparently done,” the letter reads.

The letter reads like a summary of a mediator in a dispute between two parties, but also defends the county’s position in what has become an awkward situation with the city.

“It remains the position of the County Commissioners that any shut-off of sewer service to properties outside the corporate limits of Elkhart should be an absolute last resort, if such would ever be undertaken. “This point has been made crystal clear to Mayor Moore and to Elkhart City officials, and it is our understanding that Elkhart City representatives agree with that perspective. If sewer service is disconnected, it will be by decision of and action by the City, not County government,” the letter reads.

While almost all residential sewer customers have agreed to the new city policy, Valley View, located south of the city limits, has been a hotbed of resistance and acrimony with city leaders that has simmered for years.

The city’s new residential sewer policy requires residential customers outside of the city to pay a monthly compact fee of $50 plus the a charge based on usage equal to what city residents would pay. The former policy required residents outside of the city to pay three times what city residents pay.

With several rate hikes set to kick in over the next few years, it is widely believed that residential customers outside of the city will pay less under the new policy.

Some Valley View residents have balked at signing the agreement because it would prevent them from fighting future annexation by the city.

Some of the residents have been entangled in a lengthy dispute with the city for years, with some claiming they have been overcharged. City officials have dismissed those accusations.

Leaders of the Valley View group have repeatedly sought to negotiate a new deal with the city, but officials have declined.

The letter by the commissioners also hints that customers may ultimately save some money with the new deal.

“The County Commissioners strongly recommend that you, and your remonstrating friends and neighbors, seriously consider signing the latest proposed agreement of the City of Elkhart. The $50 per month compact fee, when combined with straight line City sewer rates, may not exceed what you have paid historically, and even if there is a negative component in pricing to you prospectively, the monthly increase will apparently be rather small.”

County officials have never questioned the city’s right to turn off service, but objected last month over potential health hazards that would result if homeowners lost sewer service.

At one point, county sheriff Bradley Rogers parked in the subdivision and urged residents to call police if city crews began taking action to turn off service.

June 2 — which falls on a Sunday — represents the end of a 30-day period in which the city could then appeal its right to access the county right-of-way where the utility lines are buried.

Opposing the city’s right to access the property after June 2 “may lead to litigation and taxpayer expense on both sides of the question, with the City likely prevailing on the access question based on existing law,” the letter said.

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

Valley View Letter

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press
Posted 59 minutes ago
By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer
Posted 1 hour ago
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