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Mandate elevating rates: Sewage fees may rise 50% over 3 years

October 3, 2012

    The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) continues to knock on Decatur's door and as a result the city's sewage rates are going to go up and up over the next three years, it was learned at Tuesday night's city council meeting.
    In order to meet the latest demands from IDEM, the city is going to float a $3 million bond issue in order to substantially reduce its combined sewer overflows (CSO), something the city has been doing for several years — only to get new demands from IDEM for even further reductions.
    Now, faced with an agreed order, city officials have three years to meet those demands.
    The bottom line is that rates are projected to go up approximately 50 percent over the three-year period, beginning with a 41 percent hike at the outset, possibly starting before the end of this year. The total increase is projected to mean about $40 a month more for the average user.
    And, as city officials have found out over the last few years, "You can be sure there will be other changes down the road that we'll have to meet; this is an ongoing process," City Attorney Tim Baker said.
    "It's tightening the limits ... tightening, tightening," remarked Anne Butcher, who heads up the sewage treatment plant.
    As Baker noted, the increases fell on the rate-payers: "These are user fees."
    "Every community is encountering this. It's all due to the (federal) Clean Air Act,"
said Bill Karbach, a member of the Board of Works and Safety. "They tell us what to do and we have to do it. But we don't get any help (money) from them."
    "It's going to happen all over the State of Indiana ... all over the nation," Baker added.
    "None of us wants to do this, but our hands are tied," Mayor John Schultz said.
    Basically, CSO is a term used to describe how a heavy rain in a short period of time causes storm water to overflow the storm sewer system and mix with the sanitary sewer's carryoff. It happens infrequently — maybe never in some years — and while the city has made great reductions in CSOs over the years, IDEM is demanding more.
    John Scomp, representing Crowe Horwath, a financial consulting firm handling the funding plans for the city, was on hand at last night's meeting to lay out all the details of the bond process, the amounts needed for the project, etc. Crowe Horwath has offices in a number of states, including Fort Wayne and four other locations in Indiana.
    Schultz began the discussion by saying, "Plain and simple, the sewer department is broke. In fact, we owe $150,000 to the water department and are going to have to borrow $75,000 more."
    The money has been going to meeting as much of the IDEM demands as possible. Such as attempting to plug leaks around some of the manholes in the city; where rainwater leaks into the sanitary system
    That's why some of the city manholes are surrounded by what looks like concrete.
    "Actually, we've made substantial improvements," Street/Sanitation Superintendent Jeremy Gilbert said after the meeting, referring to plugging the manholes and other measures. "And it's helped to reduce the cost (of reaching the level IDEM is demanding.)"
    But new projects are being required to effect further reductions.
    The utility's last increase came in June of 2008.

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By BOB SHRALUKA
    It won't be cheap, but Decatur Mayor John Schultz and other city officials have decided to give a number of homeowners just outside the city limits the opportunity to tie into the city's sewer system.    
    A total of 42 such homeowners are under orders by the Adams County Health Department to abandon their septic systems, and since they are within 300 or fewer feet of the city system, the homeowners can link up and solve their problem.
    In the process of using a bond issue to raise funds to meet demands by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reduce CSOs, the mayor and council agreed to boost the needed funds to $3 million to cover the cost of adding the 42 homes.
    City ratepayers won't be subsidizing the homes, however, as the 42 will have to repay the city to the tune of $70 a month, in addition to their regular utility bill. The $70 a month will cover the cost of running sewer lines from the existing line to the homes.
    "We are just giving them the option" of meeting the county mandate in that manner, explained Mayor John Schultz. "If they don't ... well, I don't know what they will do. That's up to the (county) health dpartment."
    Tapping into the city's system could mean some hefty payments, but most of the homeowners don't have any other options.
    The homes are located along the northwest part of Winchester Road, W. Monroe St., Countryside West, Eiting Acres, N. Piqua Road and CR 500W.

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