Cloverdale tables placing fee on vacant homes
CLOVERDALE -- The Cloverdale Town Council considered adding a minimum fee to vacant homes at its recent regular meeting, but eventually tabled the issue.
Clerk-Treasurer Cheryl Galloway reported that there were 25 homes, some for sale and others used as storage, in Cloverdale that had been vacant for five to 16 years. She said that had these homes been occupied, the town would have received $524,007 in utilities, and that the town was wasting resources on treating inflow and infiltration water from neglected laterals.
“You don’t know that,” Don Gedert, a local landlord and business man, said. “You assume that.”
In the last rate study done in 2014 by Therber and Brock Associates, a $10 per month connection fee was recommended for the 109 homes vacant at that time.
“The town has costs related to these homes,” Therber and Brock Associates reported. “The town still has to maintain the collection system and the treatment plant with sufficient capacity to serve these homes when they come back on the system. Additionally, the sewer lines for these homes are still connected to the town’s collection and treatment system and the town treats the inflow and infiltration from these homes.”
Other local landlords expressed concern about how long a property could be unoccupied before being considered vacant, but the council had only been introduced to the idea and could not give an answer.
“In order to do this, you would have to do another rate study,” Town Attorney Allan Yackey said. “You’ve got to do a rate study looking at the whole system (all utilities within the town), evaluating the cost and recommendations from an expert on how to dispense those costs among the community. In the process of doing that, all of these things that you’re talking about would be subject to public hearings. The first decision the council has to make is whether or not it’s worth the cost of doing another rate study.”
The 2014 rate study cost about $24,000. Since 2011, the town has lost $10 million in assessed value, which determines how much the town can receive from taxes based on local property values.
Despite assurances that there would be time to discuss the issue in public hearings after the rate study, audience members continued to repeat their concerns until President Coweta Patton closed the discussion.
Although the council made no official vote on whether to pursue a rate study for the minimum fee, Councilman Gary Bennington made his disapproval evident.
At the start of the meeting he moved to remove the issue from the agenda, but his motion was not seconded.
“We need to work within our budget,” Bennington said about the minimum fee. “We need to do things to bring people into the town, not run them away with something like this.”
Shortly thereafter he voted against removing consideration of an endowment with the Putnam County Community Foundation for the Downtown Revitalization Project, although Clerk-Treasurer Galloway reported that the town should first receive the FASCIA grant to help pay for the three-percent interest rate that would come with it.
Bennington also said during the discussion that “nobody seems to be doing much about” inflow and infiltration despite that he’s “been trying to get that fixed for years.”
In May Clerk-Treasurer Galloway reported that $500,000 had been spent on improvements to utilities, which included addressing inflow and infiltration, since 2012 when the town was placed on an agreed order with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to fix inflow and infiltration.
The improvements were partly funded by the food and beverage fund, which Bennington consistently votes against using.
In May and July of last year alone, the Cloverdale Town Council approved using $121,355.48 from the food and beverage fund to inspect wastewater lines for future inflow and infiltration repair.
Bennington was the only dissenting vote in each case, later explaining that the town had originally sought the food and beverage tax to directly lower residents’ utility bills, which is illegal according to Indiana Code 6-9-43-9.