Members of the Adams County Regional Sewer Board at a meeting Wednesday evening; from left, Ben Adams of Commonwealth Engineering, board president Tim Barkey, board attorney Mark Burry and past-president Barry Scherer. (Photo by J Swygart)
The Adams County Regional Sewer District's board of directors may be nearing a decision on the future of a proposed $4.5 million sewer project to serve the rural areas of northern Adams County.
Armed with updated figures and cost estimates for the controversial project, the board — at the conclusion of a two-hour meeting Wednesday evening — voted to send certified letters to approximately 230 county homeowners outlining those costs. The letters will explain to property owners in the proposed target area the overall scope of the project in the most complete detail to date.
The proposed sewer project will serve residents in the unincorporated areas of Monmouth, Roe Acres, Bobo, Pleasant Mills and Arcadia Village and is being financed in part by a $2.5 million loan from the USDA Rural Development program and $2.5 million in low-interest loans.
"This being such an important issue, you have an obligation to inform the people affected by this project as much as possible and to seek their opinions," said board attorney Mark Burry. "This is not a done deal yet, and I think we need to proceed cautiously. At some point this board is going to have to make a decision (on the future of the project), but I'm not ready right now to recommend this board make that decision."
The board's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at Riverside Center in Decatur and is expected to draw a large turnout. Sewer board member John Schultz said he would like the board to make a decision on the future of the project at that meeting.
Burry agreed, saying the board "should be prepared to make a decision to proceed or not proceed" after hearing from homeowners who by that time will have received their certified letters.
Board president Tim Barkey said final figures have been agreed upon between the board and the city of Decatur for maintenance and billing services to be provided to the rural sewer district, and those numbers "were about $5,000 a year less than was estimated in our initial rate calculations."
Coupled with interest rates that currently are also below initial estimates, and an earlier decision to add some 31 additional homes in the Roe Acres subdivision to the project, Barkey said new estimates have reduced the anticipated monthly fees to be assessed to homeowners in the project area to around $80.
But board member Terry Smith, the sanitarian for the Adams County Health Department, warned that that number could increase if some homeowners default on their payments or simply abandon their homes.
Smith said a similar project in Jay County saw monthly rates start at $76 but subsequently rise to $95 after approximately 15 percent of the homeowners defaulted.
But Barkey urged to board to move forward toward a decision, despite several unknown components of the project.
"We have the best numbers we can guess at, and I think we need to seek input and then vote either yea or nay," he said.
Adams County commissioner Doug Bauman was in attendance at the meeting and relayed the commissioners' support for the sewer project.
"The whole start to this was that we've got some real health issues out there," Bauman said. "We are between a rock and a hard place, and I don't have all the answers either. But the commissioners feel this project needs to be completed."