After eight months of debate, The Elkhart Council voted 5-4 to approve an ordinance drafted by Republican David Henke during a special meeting Thursday night.
The ordinance changes the way those who live outside of the city limits are charged for sewer service. Under the measure, they'll be charged a rate 15 percent higher than what those living in the city pay.
"We know this will work," Henke said. "Over three years, more revenue comes in by a million dollars than what we collect today in today's current plan."
The debate started out with the mayor proposing a sewer fee that would be equal to 75 percent of what a customer would pay in property taxes if it were located in the city limits. That figure has since been lowered to 35 percent.
But, the proposal failed to gain the support needed from the council. It was voted down 5-4 Thursday.
Henke's ordinance was passed after it was amended to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.
But, that may never happen. It needed six votes in order to be veto-proof.
"Based on what the ordinance said, I will veto that ordinance as soon as it comes down for me to do that," said Mayor Dick Moore. "And, then what we will do that with the 75 percent ordinance now, we'll start enforcing it the first of next month."
The council could override Moore's veto, but would need six votes in order to do so. The prospect seems unlikely based on Thursday's vote.
The situation is frustrating to the many business owners and residents who've been waiting for city leaders to make a decision for month.
At stake is the health and vitality of the Elkhart area economy, according to some.
“If you were to bring a new business into Elkhart and you're going to say look you're going to pay $40,000, Well it takes is thirty seconds for an accountant to go, hmm, Bristol looks pretty darn good to me,” said Dave Schemenauer with the Marshall Group.
Schemenauer says that some businesses on the outskirts of town do pay a compact fee as high as $40,000 just for access to city sewer lines. Schemenauer further says that one business owner decided he couldn’t live with his $10,000 fee—so that business owner is living without sewer service.
“Granitech is one of the businesses in town who sit there and said, ‘we’re being charged $10,000 for the use of one toilet.’ He said it just wasn’t cost effective to do so.”
It's unclear when Moore will veto the ordinance, but he can do so as early as Friday.
If there isn't a change in the current sewer agreement, several business owners who are located outside the city say they're prepared to engage in a class-action lawsuit against Elkhart.