Town seeks answers to high sewer bills

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Water and sewer troubles plaguing yet another Putnam County town have residents and officials there desperate to find answers.

Combined monthly sewer and water rates for the 200 or so customers in Fillmore have become so high that many residents cannot pay their bills and town officials, unable to collect in many cases, are struggling to make ends meet.

One resident who attended the town council's Saturday meeting said he knows of customers paying combined water and sewer bills as high as $160 a month.

Town council president Margaret Alexander said the delinquent payments have put the town behind on paying its own bills and that something needs to be done.

"You gotta come up with a solution to get the money in here," Alexander said.

Town clerk Maxine Davies said she mailed out 34 notices last week to customers who are behind on their water bills.

On Saturday, town attorney John Zeiner had a list containing the names of about 80 people in town who, at one time or another, have failed to make good on overdue sewer and water bills.

Zeiner pointed out that of those names, between 15 and 20 of them don't even live in the town anymore.

The town clerk said she suspects that many of the names on the list are apartment renters who come and go so quickly that she can't keep track of them.

So far, the town has been reluctant to shut off services to customers who don't pay their bills or turn them over to a collection agency.

Town board member Kurt Leonard said he has been reluctant to shut people off because some customers who owe money on past bills are making an attempt to pay a little each month.

"As long as their bill is going down, don't punish them," Leonard said. "Don't take them to court."

Currently the town pumps its sewage to Greencastle and pays for it to be treated there. They also buy their water from Greencastle.

Some of the increase in Fillmore's bills can be linked to Greencastle raising its rates in 2006. Last September, the city council voted to raise monthly water rates for customers, including Fillmore, by 47 percent and 15 percent for sewer.

Fillmore residents are charged based on what the town pays Greencastle for service plus collection fees which the town adds onto the monthly bills.

Fillmore officials believe they may be able to lower the bills for residents if the town has its own sewer plant.

On Saturday, the town invited John Handy, who operates several small sewage plants in Hendricks County, to discuss options for a treatment facility.

He told them he would perform a feasibility study to see what it would take for the town to construct its own treatment plant.

"I'm thinking a couple hundred thousand dollars will put a plant in the ground," Handy said.

He said customers served by his sewer plants pay a range of $39-75 per month.

Town officials seemed receptive to Handy's ideas and agreed to have him perform the study.

Handy said it could take between 15 and 20 hours to complete the study and that he could possibly have some answers by the next town council meeting.

"If it's not a good deal for Fillmore, it's not gonna work," Handy said, to which town officials agreed.

"We've got to get rates down," Leonard said. "People don't understand it."

In other business, the council:

-- Agreed to have Alexander continue to serve as president of the board for 2007. Leonard and Albert Epple are the other two members on the board.

-- Agreed to purchase a new meter reader for the town at a cost of $13,528.

The Fillmore Town Council meets on the second Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at the town hall. The meetings are open to the public.

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