Saturday, February 13, 2016

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore talks about sewer compact fee issues Friday, March 22, 2013, during a news conference at city hall. A task force that will explore the issue will meet for the first tiem on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding) (AP)
First meeting of sewer task force not open to public
Posted on May 13, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 13, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.

ELKHART — Members of Mayor Dick Moore’s task force that will look at the compact sewer issue will meet for the first time Wednesday, May 15, but it won’t be open to the public.

Moore, in a statement issued Monday morning, said the group will meet Wednesday to draft procedural rules and will do it in private.

Working behind closed doors will keep task for members from being “distracted” and allow for “extremely candid” proceedings, Moore said in his prepared statement.

Moore said he plans to attend the beginning of the meeting.

He said that others may be invited into the meeting for information gathering at the request of a majority of the task force.

No time or location of the event was specified in the announcement.

Whether future meetings are open to the public remains unclear.

Moore has not released names of those serving on the panel and has not said publicly whether he thinks the task force should meet in an open setting.

Moore announced plans to establish a task force last month after reaching agreement following a dispute with state lawmakers.

Members of the Indiana General Assembly agreed to drop a controversial amendment in a bill that would have broadened the definition of fees that sewer customers could appeal to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The legislation was created after business owners complained about the city of Elkhart’s policy involving commercial sewer customers outside of the city.

In return, Moore agreed to drop much of a moratorium involving sewer connections for customers outside of the city.

As part of the settlement, the city agreed to study the compact issue with a task force and eventually implement a plan by April 2014, while lawmakers vowed to look at the issue on the statewide level over the summer.

Recommendations from the task force would go to Elkhart City Council for final approval.

Some lawmakers have said they want to enact legislation that would prevent other communities from establishing — as Elkhart has — much higher fees for commercial customers outside of the city.

Businesses located outside of the city began objecting soon after city council approved an ordinance late last year that shifts 75 companies to the compact policy that 63 other commercial customers have been on for years.

The city’s existing commercial compact policy charges sewer customers based on a formula involving assessed value and is much more expensive than the traditional sewer service agreement that charges customers outside of the city 300 percent of what would be paid if located in the city.

The city’s existing policy is widely believed to be among — if not the most — expensive in the state.

Some council members and businesses have expressed concern that the task force created by Moore will be weighted with people who support his views on the issue.

Moore recently proposed the assessed value formula be dropped from 75 percent to 50 percent, but has repeatedly said he believes fees for customers outside of the city should be based on assessed value.

Business owners have urged the city adopt a policy based on a flat fee or something derived from usage.

The task force includes representatives of the city and county along with business representatives, three members of the city utility office and a state representative.

The Elkhart Truth has confirmed that three of the task force members are State Rep. Tim Neese and city council members Brian Thomas and Tonda Hines.