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"When are we going to stand up and say we're not going to do this any longer," Cross Creek resident Greg Litchfield asked Mayor John Schultz and Decatur City Council Tuesday night in reference to an Indiana Department of Environmental (IDEM) mandate and a three-year sewage rate increase imposed later.
Litchfield, a Cross Creek resident, was speaking at a public hearing held within the regular city council meeting on Tuesday night. The hearing lasted one hour.
Litchfield said he has talked with many Cross Creek residents "and they are all upset. It's a heavy burden, especially for those on fixed incomes."
The mayor explained how sewage rates have been too low to keep up with increased expenses for the department, which has lead to borrowing some $225,000 from the water department. He also outlined the IDEM demands. All of which leads to the need for a rate hike and a $3 million bond issue;
"They (IDEM) are just going to keep coming back" after the current demands are met, Litchfield said.
Schultz said that although city officials also believe that to be true, "We have no way of knowing at this point. We have this in front of us now. This is what we have to act upon."
The federal government is "bullying us" and it's time to stand up and fight them, Litchfield said. "They have found us easy to push around."
"I share your frustration," Schultz said, then pointing out that the city has no other choice.
Rate consultant John Scomp, who has been working with the city on the rate increase and bond issue, said the City of Anderson decided to fight a similiar demand. IDEM, he explained, brought in the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which told members of the council that each one of them could be held personally liable if they ignored the demand.
The council gave in.
City Attorney Tim Baker said each council member could be charged with a crime if the city failed to heed IDEM's order.
He also pointed out that far from being pushed around, Decatur has been acting on IDEM demands far earlier than most communities and as a result, those communities are going to find far higher costs involved.
Sewage Treatment Plant Manager Anne Butcher said it's been 20 years since IDEM has been pushing the city to reduce CSOs. And since the city has still not reached zero overflows, it is now operating on a three-year grace period agreed to by IDEM.
"There isn't anyone here who wants to raise rates," Baker said, echoing a point made earlier by Schultz, and adding that the city has already done several small projects — like stopping rain water from leaking into manholes — and will continue to do more in order to bring about some savings in the project.
Another city resident, Ed Gage, posed a number of questions, such as how much his bill will rise, how much water he uses, etc., and he wanted to know if the city was going all it could to reduce costs.
"There are our department heads (attending the meeting); they've all cut back," Baker said.