ELKHART — The Elkhart City Council ended the commercial compact sewer controversy just hours before its one-year anniversary.
On Monday night, Nov. 18, the council voted unanimously on a plan pushed primarily by Republican David Henke and Democrats Ron Troyer and Dave Osborne.
The new plan will end the compact policy by the end of 2014 for commercial customers outside of the city and switch to a surcharge.
The proposal also decreases the residential fee for customers outside of the city from $50 to $35.
Henke called it a short-term fix and the fairest plan that the council could agree on, but left open the door for future adjustments on how residential customers will be charged. Commercial customers in 2014 will pay a compact fee based on 25 percent of assessed value of their property.
He and other Republicans want to see a surcharge used for residential customers.
Commercial customers will shift to a surcharge beginning in 2015.
Henke commended his colleagues and thanked his political rival, Mayor Dick Moore.
“Did we all get exactly what we wanted? We did not,” Henke said. “We did compromise. That goes for mister mayor as well. Dick, thank you for your compromise.”
Indeed, Moore, the two-term mayor who initially dug in in his support for continuing to use assessed value in the compact formula, offered a series of compromises and ultimately agreed to end the compact policy that began more than a decade before his arrival in city hall.
In recent weeks, Moore agreed to shorten the phase-out from 2018 to 2015.
The unanimous vote came after an amendment by Brian Dickerson, who sought to change language that would have shifted both commercial and residential to a surcharge after 2014.
That vote failed, 2-6, with the only support coming from Dickerson and Henke.
“We’ve made some great adjustments,” said Democrat councilman Brent Curry. “I think it’s time to move forward.”
The agreement comes amid numerous threats of a lawsuit from a group of business owners outside of the city who feel any continued use of assessed value in charging customers is unlawful and unfair.
Businessman David Schemenauer, instead of discussing the threat of a lawsuit, focused his public comments on Valley View, a suburb south of town that has been paying extra sewer fees for nearly 30 years. He said all sewer rates — commercial and residential — should be set by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and repeatedly questioned whether the Moore administration can be trusted.
A year of acrimony began Nov. 19, 2012, when the council passed a sewer ordinance that — among other things — attempted to level the playing field for commercial customers by shifting about 70 businesses from paying three times what businesses inside the city pay to compact fees based on assessed value.
More than 60 other companies had been on the compact policy for years with little public complaint.
The new policy will also end discounts offered to non-profits — an issue the council wrangled with a year ago when Moore sought the provision.
The council will now focus much of its attention in coming months to considering an aggressive annexation plan put forth by Moore, who has targeted 16 areas — mostly commercial and industrial. The first four areas will be considered by the council beginning in February.
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