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Mayor Richard "Dick" Moore ¬ 2011 ¬ (Photo Supplied) (PHOTO SUPPLIED)
Moore renews disconnect threat, seeks sewer resolution
Posted on Oct. 31, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 31, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore has issued an ultimatum to Valley View residents and the city council on two compact fee issues.

In a letter to the council, Moore said Thursday, Oct. 31, that he wants action from council within a few weeks on the commercial compact dispute. Otherwise, the city will make plans to enforce the existing commercial compact fee policy, he said.

In the same statement, Moore said residential customers who have refused to sign the city’s residential compact fee agreement will face a Nov. 20 deadline and once again threatened to disconnect service.

Moore said it would be “terribly irresponsible” to allow both issues to linger into 2014.

The council approved a new sewer ordinance eleven months ago that affected commercial and residential customers outside of the city. But the city ran into opposition from commercial customers immediately who said it was unfair and too expensive.

Valley View residents, who have had a long-standing disagreement with the city over compact fees, were slow to sign the new agreement.

The residential policy requires a $50 compact fee in addition to the monthly sewer charge.

According to the utility office, the number of residential customers who have not signed is less than 20 and includes 11 from Valley View.

Most residential customers had been paying a rate three times more than city customers. Officials contend most residential customers will save money under the new plan.

The holdouts have been paying the city rate without the new fee during the nearly year-long dispute, according to Tim Reecer, office manager for the city utility department.

The city earlier this year set a deadline for residential holdouts, but backed off threats to disconnect after the Elkhart County sheriff threatened to intervene.

While Elkhart County officials had spoken out against city plans to disconnect customers, they later backed off and agreed the city has a right to terminate service if the customers don’t sign a new agreement.

In Moore’s letter to the council, he said county commissioners indicated they share his frustrations and agree “it is time to end the situation.”

Jon Nelson, an outspoken critic of the mayor and the compact policy, is one of the holdouts. After learning of the new deadline, he showed no sign of changing his position.

He suggested the holdouts will let the process play out.

“Everybody’s gotta do what everybody’s gotta do,” Nelson said.

The city is expected to eventually seek unpaid compact fees from the residential customers.

Meanwhile, Moore’s demand concerning the commercial compact issue comes five weeks after he submitted his latest proposal to the council and about two months after he vetoed a Republican-led alternative plan that replaced the compact fee with a usage-based surcharge.

The council meets Monday, Nov. 4, for its regular meeting and has scheduled a committee meeting for Thursday, Nov. 7, to consider Moore’s proposal.

Democrat councilman Dave Osborne said he believes the council is moving closer to resolving the commercial compact issue. He said he’s been in discussion with Republican David Henke and would like to see a compromise plan approved with a large majority of the nine-member council.

“Everybody wants to get something done,” Osborne said.

The compact dispute has become the biggest controversy the city has seen in several years and has spurred threats of a lawsuit by a coalition of businesses located along the perimeter of the city. Earlier this year, the group organized a yard sign campaign demanding an end to the compact policy while at the same time, heavily criticizing Moore.

New yard signs appeared earlier this month portraying Moore as a bully and demanding Valley View be part of the city’s massive annexation plans. Moore wants to focus annexation on commercial property.

Osborne said he thought the newest signs “were over the top.”

Henke, who authored the sewer plan that Moore vetoed, also expressed hope that a bipartisan compromise could be within reach and declined to comment on Moore’s threats.

As for the looming talk of disconnecting residential customers, Henke said he continues to believe it would be a bad decision on the part of the administration.

In March, the council approved a short-term plan that would phase in charges using the traditional formula that relies on 75 percent assessed value to determine the monthly fee. The plan calls for new compact customers to pay one third of the total fee in 2013.