ELKHART — The Elkhart City Council moved two compact sewer proposals out of committee Monday, July 29, but did not tip its hand as to what plan might soon be adopted.
The council, acting as a committee of the whole, unanimously passed two ordinances out of committee without recommendation and scheduled an Aug. 8 special meeting for what could be a final vote that would end the eight-month debate on commercial sewer charges for customers outside of the city.
Mayor Dick Moore expressed dismay that the council chose not to plan a vote for Monday, Aug. 5, when it meets for a regularly scheduled meeting.
Council president Ron Troyer said he wanted the council to have an isolated time to devote to the issue.
Moore has suggested the council’s numerous special meetings in recent months on the sewer dispute have been an attempt to drag out the process.
“It’s just another delaying tactic,” Moore said. “What is the public going to think?”
Asked if he felt confident his 35-percent “PILOT” plan would be adopted, Moore said “I don’t have any confidence at all. There’s no way to read that group.”
Troyer, though, said he’s confident the issue will be resolved Aug. 8.
Meanwhile, Republican councilman David Henke said he plans to introduce several amendments aimed at compromise.
Henke and other Republicans prefer a 15-percent user fee that goes to the utility department. Moore’s 35-percent plan sends revenues from sewer fees to the Greater Elkhart Fund.
Henke wants to delay the shift of funds for a year in the event of a shortfall that is expected as the city sees a reduction in sewer fees.
He also suggested the city could borrow from several funds and repay the money when property taxes from annexation begin to arrive in city coffers.
A handful of critics of Moore’s plan spoke at the meeting.
Among them was businessman Steve Schemenauer, who pointed to the problems experienced in Detroit, where city leaders recently filed for bankruptcy.
While he admitted Elkhart’s economy is much healthier, Schemenauer suggested the compact fee will drive away business the same way it happened in Detroit.
Ultimately, the fee will hurt the city, he said.
“It is a fee that will chase away business,” Schemenauer said.
Moore, afterward, bristled at the comparison to Detroit.
“They can’t support what they are saying,” Moore said. “We do not have any financial problems.”
City leaders have been trying to find a solution to the sewer dispute since December after business owners outside of the city limits complained about being shifted from sewer service agreements to the compact policy in which charges are based on assessed property value.
Traditionally, the compact formula was based on 75 percent of assessed value.
An ordinance shifting 75 companies to the compact policy was approved in November. Sixty-three other companies have been on the compact policy for years.
But numerous representatives of the 75 companies complained of the significant hike they would expect to see as a result of the change.
Moore tried to compromise earlier this year by offering to phase-in the transition. He later proposed dropping the formula to 50 percent before proposing the 35-percent plan recommended by a special task force.
Moore has also proposed an aggressive annexation effort of contiguous properties beyond the city limits that are hooked up to city utilities.