Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton Utility revenues hit by overdue balances

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Early in the pandemic, as tens of thousands of Hoosiers were laid off or thrown out of work altogether, Gov. Eric Holcomb declared by executive order a moratorium on all utility shut-offs for nonpayment.

That moratorium was extended and is now set to expire on Aug.14. Whether Holcomb extends it again--as COVID-19 cases surge to record levels in the state--is anybody’s guess at this point.

One thing is certain, however: the Chesterton Utility’s revenues have taken a hit. Currently, Superintendent Dave Ryan reported at Monday night’s meeting of the Utility Service Board, 451 customers are in arrears on their sanitary sewer, stormwater, and refuse bills. Sanitary sewer customers alone owe a total of $49,931.87. Most of those--309--owe less than $200, but 142 customers owe between $300 and $500.

It’s not a critical problem yet, as far as the Utility is concerned, but “it’s going to get worse until this dies down,” Ryan told the Service Board.

All things being normal, after due notifications of late payment have been made to a customer, the Utility refers the matter to Indiana American Water Company, which in turn shuts off that customer’s water. But nothing about the pandemic is normal, and Gov. Holcomb’s order was intended to protect folks hard hit by the almost-overnight economic collapse. Still, Ryan said, “A lot of people aren’t paying at all. They know that we’re not going to shut their water off.

At some point people are going to have to pay,” Member John Schnadenberg noted.

Absolutely,” Ryan agreed.

I’d hate to think that on Aug. 15 we’re going to have a lot of customers without water,” Member Scot McCord hazarded. “It may be worthwhile for Dave to establish some sort of payment plan policy.”

Ryan said that he would do so. His idea right now, though, is to include on the next set of bills a message urging customers in arrears to contact the Utility about setting up a payment plan. In the meantime, he told the Service Board that he’ll touch base with other sanitary utilities in the region to see what they’re doing about nonpayment.

Utility Fleet

In other business, members voted unanimously to authorize Ryan to purchase, with cash on the barrel, a new backhoe, after the Utility’s current backhoe blew the turbo on its engine on June 29. “The motor just ran away until all the oil was used up,” Ryan said.

Although the backhoe was scheduled to be replaced in 2022, that acquisition needs to be moved up to this year, Ryan recommended.

Schnadenberg agreed. “That’s something that you use almost every day,” he said.

The ticket price for a brand-new backhoe is $169,000, Ryan said, but with trade-in and government discount the Utility will be on the hook for significantly less: around $98,000.

The only snag: the delivery date for the new backhoe is 16 to 19 weeks from now. Ryan said that he’ll attempt to expedite delivery, and that in the meantime the Utility can use, when needed, the Street Department’s backhoe, but that in a pinch the Utility may have to rent one.

Ryan also reported that the Utility will take delivery of its new dump truck early in August, for a net price--including trade-in of the old dump truck--of $121,717.


Meanwhile, President Larry Brandt had occasion to ask Ryan about the recent high incidence of sinkholes in town, with yet another one opening late last month in the area of South Eighth Street and West Indiana Ave. “I think we’re getting a lot of sinkholes in the old part of town,” he said.

Ryan agreed. The Utility is trying to stay on top of the old lines, with a major re-line of the sinkhole-prone West Morgan Ave. main completed last year and the scheduled re-line this year of the Wabash Ave. main.

I think we have to face the realization that we’ll be doing a significant amount of that over the next 10 to 15 years,” Brandt suggested.

Trust Indiana

Members voted unanimously, on Ryan’s recommendation, to transfer $500,000 more to the Trust Indiana Fund, a local government pool exclusively serving municipalities.

Ryan did note that there’s been a steady decrease in interest earned this year, down right now to a 0.85-percent rate compared to last year’s average yield of 2.4 percent. “But that’s the market,” he said.

That’s still better than the bank,” Brandt observed.

June in Review

In June, Chesterton used 61.65 percent of its 3,668,000 gallon per day (gpd) allotment of the wastewater treatment plant; Porter, 48.65 percent of its 851,000 gpd allotment; the Indian Boundary Conservancy District, 88.18 percent of its 81,000 gpd allotment; and the plant as a whole, 60.41 percent of its capacity.

A total of 2.98 inches of rain was recorded at the plant in May, and there were no overflows of wastewater into the Little Calumet River.

Also in June, the Utility ran a deficit of $160,851.56 and in the year-to-date is running a surplus of $298,572.93.

With Gratitude

McCord took a moment at the end of the meeting to thank all who expressed their condolences on the passing last month of his daughter-in-law, Amy Christine McCord, 41. “I would like to thank everybody for their prayers and condolences on the death of my daughter-in-law,” he said. “My son and grandchildren are doing well. But thank you for the well wishes.”

Stormwater Management Board

Earlier in the evening, at 6:30 p.m., the Stormwater Management Board met briefly to hear reports.

Town Engineer Mark O’Dell told members that repairs have been completed on the 36-inch stormwater pipe along 23rd Street which failed in May during a heavy rain event, causing a significant sinkhole beneath the sidewalk just north of Washington Ave. The sidewalk still needs to be replaced but at the moment “we’re just letting the ground settle,” O’Dell said. “It was very wet there.” Significant jetting of the pipe was conducted downstream, due to the sheer quantity of debris washed into it, and the Utility is continuing to monitor it for now, he added.

The Street Department, meanwhile, is repairing stormwater inlets and has been spot street-sweeping, “touching up in places,” after an initial run through the whole of town in the spring, Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said.

O’Dell did say that he and Schnadenberg have not had a chance to pursue the proposed piping and in-filling of ditches along the north side of 1050N in Crocker, what with the 23rd Street sinkhole and this season’s heavy paving schedule.

In June the Stormwater Utility ran a surplus of $20,413 and in the year-to-date is running a surplus of $64,800.

osted 7/22/2020





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