ELKHART — Two former Republican city council members expressed frustration Friday over the inertia that seems to overwhelm council members in the ongoing commercial compact sewer dispute.
Carol McDowell and Kyle Hannon said they are dismayed with the lack of progress after sitting through a two-hour council committee meeting Wednesday.
The meeting included political sniping, some shouting and discussion on yet another proposal aimed at resolving a seven-month dispute over how the city should charge commercial customers outside of the city for sewer service. By the end of the night, very little was accomplished.
Council will meet Monday, but no significant progress is expected to happen because Mayor Dick Moore’s proposal is still in committee.
“I feel like everybody is exasperated and nobody’s working for the good of Elkhart,” McDowell said.
Hannon, the president of Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, added, “They should be frustrated because everyone watching is.”
McDowell and Hannon sat on the mayor’s compact sewer task force and both have expressed support for Moore’s 35 percent proposal, which is the result of task force recommendation.
Hannon points out that the task force finished its work six weeks ago and council has had three meetings on the issue since then.
It appears the debate will linger into August.
McDowell, Hannon and Moore have independently suggested it is time for council to make a decision.
Council president Ron Troyer said he’s heard complaints and said he takes some of the responsibility for not being able to move the issue forward.
Troyer said he believes the meetings have been bogged down with egos and personal agendas. “These are tomcats that I’m herding,” Troyer said, referring to running council meetings.
Troyer said he believes the compact dispute has devolved to the point that “the further you go, the further apart you get.”
Moore’s formula for charging commercial customers outside of the city continues to rely on assessed value, while most Republicans are demanding it be based on usage and a surcharge.
“There’s not enough votes to go in either direction,” Troyer said.
On Wednesday night, council was discussing Moore’s plan, which doesn’t address annexation even though the Moore administration is working on an annexation strategy.
Troyer said he tried to limit discussion to details involved in Moore’s ordinance, but numerous council members — Democrats and Republican — wanted to discuss the impact of annexation that Moore has proposed to coincide with the new policy.
Some Republicans have said they believe annexation should be part of the ordinance.
Troyer said he’s contemplating whether to use a mediator to work through the issue or seek a straight up or down vote.
Troyer, a Democrat, said he’s struggled with some of his own party members. He said he’s bothered by the “arrogance of leadership” and pointed directly to an effort on Wednesday to immediately call for a vote on Moore’s plan. That idea was quickly defeated.
Troyer said he felt the move was designed to “make me look like a fool.”
Moore, told of Troyer’s comment, did not respond to a request Saturday morning for a comment.
Asked about the pace of progress, Moore said he believes council has overused the practice of turning issues over to the “committee of the whole” instead of the finance committee.
Troyer has said he prefers the “committee of the whole” approach because the issue goes beyond finances and involves people inside and outside of the city.
The council’s tendency to send issues to a committee of the whole “appears to be a control tactic
to create a delay in the process,” Moore said.
Moore said he and his staff worked Friday on studying the impact of the phase-in schedule in which more than 130 companies outside of the city limits would shift to the 35 percent formula using assessed value.
He said he believes there might be an effort by some on council to adjust the phase-in schedule, and he feels strongly the plan adopted by the task force is best.
Moore also called on council to bring his proposal out of committee and give it a vote. “It is time to do so,” he said.
Hannon said some council members are more interested in having a public display of opinions rather than thoughtful consideration.”
Hannon credits Republican councilman Brian Dickerson for trying to advance the debate by introducing several changes to Moore’s plan, but thinks if Dickerson wants to shift the direction of revenues from the Greater Elkhart Fund to the utility, he and others should explain “what they want to cut to make up for that shortfall.” The Greater Elkhart Fund is used to pay for an assortment of services including trash fees, funding for several departments and unexpected expenses, among others.
“I sat there thinking, ‘If they pass this, they’re going to have to enact a trash fee,’” Hannon said.