Chesterton Tribune



Library pays Porter sewer bill upgrades museum ceiling

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Westchester Public Library will pay a retroactive $3,972 sewer bill from the Town of Porter sewage utility for Hageman Library there, but Library Board members who made that decision aren’t happy about it.

Far from it. During a nearly 25-minute discussion Thursday, the Library Board and its attorney Terry Hiestand debated whether to request a waiver, file litigation challenging the billing, not pay it and ask for further clarification, or pay it but ask justification why the bill ---received in September yet dating back to May 29, 2009 --- is owed in the first place.

Another alternative would have been not to do anything and let Porter make the next move.

A problem arose when the sewer utility began back-billing some residential and commercial customers based on the correct size of their water meters. The monthly sewage base rate depends on meter size.

Some residential Porter customers were hit with approximately $1,300 back-billings because their 1-inch meters were not the standard 5/8 or 3/4-inch meter considered to be residential service. After those customers complained, the Porter Town Council on Tuesday rolled the 1-inch meters into the residential classification and forgave their back-billing charges.

Hageman Library’s water meter is 1 1/2 inches, which now is charged a base rate of $82 per-month more than a 1-inch line. The Town Council’s rate-fix was for residential customers only.

Library director Phil Baugher recommended paying the sewer bill, in part because WPL has had a great relationship with the Town of Porter. But Baugher also suggested a way to avoid higher billings in the future.

He plans to contact Indiana American Water Co. to have Hageman’s water meter reduced to a 1-inch size. Baugher said some of the 1975 building’s utilities were oversized but never reduced when the original building plans were changed.

Library Board president Nick Tilden said some homes in Porter have five bathrooms yet are paying the much-lower residential rate than Hageman.

An overriding factor in the Library Board opting not to challenge the matter was cost of litigation. “(The bill’s) $4,000 but if we spend $10,000 I doubt many people will be pleased with it,” said member Drew Rhed. “I don’t think we should be creating any ill will.”

Hiestand said it’s still not clear whether Porter legally can charge different base rates because of water-meter size, despite an explanation provided by town attorney Gregg Sobkowski.

Said Tilden, “I don’t think we’ll get a reason that’s acceptable because there is none.”

Also Thursday, the board agreed to use commercial ceiling tile for a renovation of the WPL-operated Westchester Township History Museum exhibit space in the historic Brown Mansion, which is leased to WPL by the Duneland School Corporation.

Baugher said due to a mix-up, residential ceiling tiles were installed and while it looks very nice, the project architect has a concern about the tile’s thinness. Noted board member Abbe Trent, “The School Board is so generous in letting us use the building, we should do renovation work that’s quality.”

Changing to commercial tile will mean a construction delay and cost about $4,000 on top of the nearly $56,000 being spent so far.

Regarding renewal of WPL’s employee heath-insurance plan, Baugher said the plan administrator is checking the marketplace for alternatives. The previous plan isn’t being offered, said Baugher, and the substitite offered by the carrier is “a huge step down for our employees” although a savings for the library.

A technology report showed WPL is dropping the online Chilton’s database and the Freegal downloadable music service based on low patron usage for both. A music/movie downloadable service could be added next year. The online Zinio magazine service has been renewed although a few less-used titles have been dropped by WPL or the publishers.

Continuing its practice of visiting WPL-owned facilities, the Library Board meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the History Museum, Jan. 9 at the Library Service Center, and Feb. 13 at Hageman.

Posted 11/15/2013