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Sewer board to talk rates with Decatur

July 11, 2012

Adams County Regional Sewer District members Barry Ehinger and Terry Smith, left, and Commonwealth Engineering representative Ben Adams on Tuesday discussed how proposed rate hikes to be implemented by the city of Decatur will affect the new county sewer district. (Photo by J Swygart)

    The Adams County Regional Sewer District board of directors on Tuesday appointed a subcommittee charged with the task of negotiating with the city of Decatur the rates that will be charged to county residents whose sewage ultimately will be sent to Decatur for treatment.
    The fledgling regional sewer board is attempting to get up and running following its receipt of a $2 million rural development grant earmarked to construct sewer lines to serve the unincorporated areas of Monmouth, Bobo, Pleasant Mills and Arcadia Village. The new sewer district would serve some 233 residences.
    The board on Tuesday heard from John Skomp of Crowe Horwath LLP, an Indianapolis firm hired to serve as rate consultants for the city of Decatur.
    Skomp said Decatur's current utility rates "are not bringing in sufficient revenues to cover expenses" and added that rate hikes will be recommended in the near future. Those rate increases will also have a direct bearing on the costs billed by the city to the regional sewer board for its soon-to-be customers.
    While final figures are not yet available, Skomp said the city of Decatur likely "will be looking at a three-phase (rate) increase that will total around 50 percent" to cover state and federal environmental mandates "and to get us up to where we need to be."
    While regional sewer board members initially had been presented with an estimated monthly treatment charge of approximately $24 per customer, preliminary figures offered by the Decatur rate consultant show that number is now closer to $32. Monthly rates for rural customers could near $100, according to board member Terry Smith.
    Attorney Mark Burry said the regional sewer board has few options on where to send its sewage, but needs some concrete numbers with which to work.
    "This board has to know going forward what our treatment costs will be. But since there's only one game in town, we either come to Decatur (with sewage) or there won't be a project," Burry said.
    The idea of a subcommittee to negotiate with city officials over rates to be charged to the regional sewer district was put forth by Ben Adams of Commonwealth Engineering, who is serving as a consultant to the regional board.
    "I think there can be some give and take between the city and the county," Adams said.
    Decatur Mayor John Schultz said he is confident the Decatur City Council will negotiate diligently with the county.
    "I've been concerned about our rates for some time now," Schultz said, "and I've wanted assurance that the city wasn't going to subsidize people who live outside the city. I did throw some warning flags up."
    Under the current timeline, Burry said the regional sewer project could go out for bid early next year. The construction would take approximately 18 months, Adams said, and users in the targeted areas would be required to tie into the new sewer system within 90 days.
    Some residents in attendance at Tuesday's meeting questioned why some rural areas have been targeted for mandatory inclusion while others are being bypassed for the time being. Board member Barry Ehinger said the grant application listed only the Bobo, Pleasant Mills, Monmouth and Arcadia Village areas and therefore the first phase of the regional sewer can only include those areas.
    Board chairman Barry Scherer said, "We are trying to keep costs down, but at the same time we have to keep moving forward."
    The full regional sewer district board will next meet at 2 p.m. on August 14 at Riverside Center in Decatur.

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