Is it just me or did Elkhart city politics seem especially contentious in 2013? No need to reply to that question. I think we all know the answer.
Below is a quick look back and a few observations as the city moves forward:
Clearly, the biggest political story in the city of Elkhart had to do with people outside of the city who are city sewer customers. 2013 could easily be remembered as the year of the Compact Sewer Dispute. The year-long debate was driven by a group of people who work outside of the city and were eventually able to reshape the way Elkhart sells sewer service to businesses and residents outside of the city.
That issue will help mold what will likely be a top issue in 2014 as the council attempts to annex numerous areas in all four directions around the city. With the anticipated loss of revenues from compact fees, city officials will be looking to annex plenty of areas as soon as possible because the increased tax revenues will be needed to offset the loss of compact fees.
Coinciding with the business aspect of the compact policy was the concern among residential customers, many of whom live in Valley View subdivision and saw their monthly compact fee drop from $50 to $35.
Nonetheless, there are still a handful of customers who have refused to sign new agreements. City officials, rebuffed earlier this year in the plans to cut off service to the holdouts, have devised a new plan, if necessary. That continued standoff could be a matter of public concern in January if Mayor Dick Moore chooses to carry out his threat.
As for the standoff with business customers, I would guess Moore is glad to see 2013 in the rear view mirror. The sewer issue captivated much of his attention and that of city council. Since he’s already announced plans to run for a third term, 2014 could be a chance for him to reset the tone with new initiatives.
Speaking of elections, the municipal campaigns are not until 2015, so the next 12 months will be a time of decision for incumbents and those on the sidelines who might have an interest in running for council or the mayor’s office.
Other issues on the horizon:
2014 will be a year when the rubber hits the road for SoMa and DEI, both of which are working to improve the immediate downtown area.
After two years of planning, SoMa, the downtown revitalization group, will begin to gear up for changes with the help of three staff members who will work out of the Lerner Theatre.
Downtown Elkhart Inc., on the other hand, is also venturing into its own aggressive plan that tracks closely with the work of SoMa. Both groups are receiving an infusion of money and new personnel in 2014.
With DEI’s new focus on residential blight surrounding the downtown business district, the attention paid to blight will be an issue of increased attention.
Another looming topic will be crime in the city and specifically around the Roosevelt neighborhood, which saw two homicides in the past year. Will the city target Roosevelt with an increased police presence?
In a somewhat related issue, some council members and city officials believe boosting pay for police will help minimize turnover and make it easier for the city to attract good candidates for the police department. That could very well come up in 2014.
For me, the past 12 months represented my first full year as a reporter for the Truth and I had no idea it would be dominated by sewer stories. I'm pretty sure nobody really enjoys reading endless reports about political haggling over sewer rates, but it spilled over into interesting side issues involving the General Assembly, public records requests, fairness, political will and ultimately, compromise.
If there is one thing all nine council members can agree upon as the year ends, though, it is simple: Nobody will miss the topic of commercial sewer rates in 2014.