The city of Elkhart has entered another heated chapter in its long-standing sewer usage dispute. Thursday night, Elkhart’s mayor, Dick Moore, issued an ultimatum in the form of an email addressed to the media and common council members.
The note reads: “It would be terribly irresponsible of us to allow this sewer, compact, payment in lieu of annexation issue to be with us as we begin 2014.” Moore goes on to explain that residential customers who have not yet signed a compact agreement will receive a letter in the mail indicating that they must sign the existing compact agreement or be disconnect from the sewage system on November 20.
For residential properties outside city limits, that compact agreement calls for a $50 monthly fee in addition to monthly usage costs.
City utilities reports fewer than 20 residential properties are not paying the compact fee. Out of those 20, 11 properties fall within the Valley View neighborhood.
Moore said the option is theirs to sign the agreement, as per current sewer ordinance requirements, or they can be disconnected. But people living in Valley View homes say they don’t have an alternative to the sewer system.
Steve, a long-time resident of the neighborhood said Valley View experienced an issue with septic tanks overflowing years ago. Since then households have relied on a sewer hookup. The latest threat to disconnect by the 20th of November is another example of the mayor acting as a bully.
A contingency of Valley View residents have accused the mayor of bullying them to sign the compact agreements, subsequently forcing some of them to pay more. The mayor on the other hand, said the compact agreement is a less expensive sewer fee than many had been paying under prior ordinances.
When asked about eventual annexation, Steve said the Valley View community is 50/50 when it comes to support and opposition.
“It’s kind of like, ‘what’s the city willing to do for me right now?’ The city has not shown any good faith towards us in the past and so we’re a little leery of them right now,” Steve added.
“As to the commercial and industrial properties outside of our City, I will wait until the next Council meeting on the 18th of November or a special one is called that either gives us a new ordinance or leaves us with the one on the books before I notify them that they also face a deadline to sign a payment in lieu of annexation agreement,” said Moore in the council-directed email.
Some 60 companies have been paying an established fee based on the Compact Ordinance currently on the books for 2013. Moore told the council it must enforce the 2013 ordinance that requires another 60 commercial properties—who have not paid that fee—to pay one third of the 75-percent fee based on the assessed value of their property for 2013.
Friday morning Moore told NewsCenter 16 he hoped it wouldn’t come to enforcing the current ordinance. Instead, he wants the council to consider the proposed ordinance he introduced earlier this fall.
The proposal is a five-year plan which includes a gradual reduction in fees for commercial properties as well as annexation of both commercial and residential properties in a series of four phases.
“We’re moving very quickly to get these businesses into the city” said Moore, who plans on introducing phase one for the council’s consideration sometime this month. Once properties are annexed they will cease paying fees and start paying city property taxes.
Third District Councilman David Henke pointed out Moore’s sudden support of annexation didn’t come until a survey showed the city stood to make more revenue from property taxes on these properties than from sewer fees.
The issue Henke has now is the letters threatening disconnection coming from the mayor’s office.
“These are going to be our neighbors one way or another,” Henke pointed out that there’s a lack of trust between residents, commercial properties and the administration.
However, Henke believes the people of Valley View do need to sign on and pay: “do they need to sign and pay? They do, I agree. At the threat of disconnect? I totally disagree.”
There will be a special committee hearing Nov. 7, and a common council meeting Nov. 18 to discuss both the sewer ordinance and possible disconnection of residential properties.
Henke is working on amendments to remedy any of the council’s issues with the ordinance. He said the amended version is both fair and uniform in its manner of resolving any sewer concerns. The common council will need five votes to pass any ordinance, but Henke said they’re looking for a wider spread to prove to the people that everyone is finally in agreement.
Moore said he expects an agreement to be made by the November deadline.