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Residents seek sewage solution

Friday, June 15, 2007

Owners of the almost 200 homes and businesses located just north of the Greencastle city limits want more answers before deciding whether to go ahead with the costly installation of public sewers to replace their aging septic systems.

Of utmost concern for the residents living in the Edgelea subdivision and business owners on U.S. 231 North is the possibility that many of them will have to fork out close to $25,000 apiece to construct and connect to the city's municipal sewer system.

Some in the crowd of at least 200 at a special meeting Thursday night argued that they simply cannot afford the cost -- which officials say could be broken down into monthly payments over 20 years -- while others said that for the good of the neighborhood, they have no choice but to support the project.

The problem for property owners, as explained by health officials at the meeting, is that eight of the approximately 140 homes in Edgelea have private septic systems that have failed and that more could join the list.

Putnam County Health Officer Dr. Robert Heavin said septic systems are not designed to last forever and that tests conducted by health officials in the past have found diluted sewage in the streets of Edgelea.

Debbie Barnhizer, with the Indiana Department of Health, said the water table in Edgelea is shallow and that some of the septic systems are actually sitting in the water during the rainy parts of the year, which poses a contamination hazard.

Adding to the problem, the lots in the subdivision are not large enough to support new septic systems where old ones have failed. One option for homeowners is to have additional soil mounded on top of their old system to allow for a new system to be installed. But some homeowners who attended Thursday's meeting said mounding was something they did not want for their properties.

The remaining options for the area include the formation of a conservancy district -- which means the construction of an independent sewage system for that area -- or the final option of connecting to the city's system, which currently ends at the city limit just south of the area.

The cost to connect to the city's sewer system has been estimated at $3.9 million, according to officials with Crowe Chizek and Company, the Indianapolis consulting firm hired by the city to draft preliminary estimates for the project.

The company's John Skomp said each home and business owner would have to foot the expense to connect his or her property to the city's system at a cost of between $2,500 and $4,000.

Additionally, each owner would have to pay for the construction of the lateral line connecting his or her home or businesses with the main sewer line that would run underneath the street at a cost of $13,000 to $15,000.

Finally, as part of the construction of stormwater drainage that would accompany the sewer lines, each property owners would have to pay an additional $8,300.

Skomp said owners could pay these costs in one lump sum or sign up for monthly payments.

Homeowners in Edgelea, who would have to pay for the construction of both sewers and stormwater systems, could make monthly payments of $144. Business owners, who are not being targeted for a stormwater system, would pay $89 per month.

Skomp recommended the city obtain 20-year bonds for the project with an annual interest rate of 4.75 percent. Someone in the audience asked Skomp if the loans could be stretched to 30 years, at which time Skomp said it would cause the interest to rise and that the state likely would not approve a longer period.

Hoping to appease property owners, city officials said they would be willing to take the revenue generated from property taxes in the Edgelea area for a period of three years, and put it back into the project. The property taxes themselves could rise by about $500 a year for some homeowners in the Edgelea area, according to Skomp.

In addition to the monthly payments for the new system, property owners would have to start paying monthly water and sewer bills as well, once the system is up and running.

On Thursday, residents were presented with a chart showing that the average customer, using 700 cubic feet of water each month, could expect a combined water, sewer and $10 trash collection fee of $67.54.

One resident who attended the meeting roughly calculated that residents could see $200 in additional monthly expenses as a result of the sewer project, which could be a struggle for some to pay.

Thursday night's meeting was a culmination of almost four years of meetings about the issue by residents of the area. A committee representative told the crowd that the group had settled on the sewer as their best option.

But serving to muddy the waters for some residents is the idea of annexation into the city which officials have outlined as a prerequisite for the sewer project.

Only if the area is annexed into the city will it be allowed to connect to the city's sewer system, Mayor Nancy Michael said Thursday night. Responding to some who say the city is seeking to force annexation on the neighborhood, the mayor insisted the city is not seeking to have the area annexed but is willing to join the project if the residents so choose.

"We are not interested remotely in doing an involuntary annexation," she said.

She went on to say that she believes it makes sense to have Edgelea and the area along U.S. 231 join the city and that she supports the findings of the draft fiscal plan paid for by the city and presented Thursday night.

"I think this is a viable solution," the mayor said. "If you choose to do this (project), the time is now."

City Attorney Laurie Hardwick explained that at least 51 percent of the property owners in the area, or enough of them to represent 75 percent of the assessed property value, would have to petition the city in order to be annexed. At that point, the city would be required, by law, to determine if it was feasible for the area to be annexed.

Conversely, it would take 65 percent of the owners to speak out against annexation to stop it, or 75 percent of the assessed value, Hardwick said. Anyone wanting to appeal the annexation, if it is approved and adopted by the city council, would have 90 days after the ordinance is approved, to act.

At the conclusion of Thursday night's meeting, there was no official decision to move forward with the annexation process or sewer project. Residents said they have more questions and hope to schedule an additional meeting before making a decision.

Copies of the draft fiscal plan or other documents presented at Thursday night's meeting can be obtained at city hall or from the Edgelea committee.

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