Chesterton Tribune

Porter gets serious about sewers, looks at payment options

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The large truck belonging to a sewer repair company parked in front of the Porter town hall reinforced the problems discussed there Monday night.

The company is making $200,000 emergency repairs to a cracked downtown Franklin Street sewer. At the same time $180,000 is being spent to correct a serious sanitary-sewer problem on Oak Hill Road.

Ron Bush and Brad McNabb said fellow Porter residents need to understand the seriousness of the situation the town faces with its sewer-collection system.

Education will be key, said Bush. “When this comes out it has to be a full-court press,” recommended McNabb. Plans are being made to include an informational newsletter in upcoming town sewer bills.

But even if they understand the situation, will residents be willing to pay more to correct years of neglected sewer maintainence?

And will the Town Council bite the bullet and take the heat --- especially at the ballot box --- to make things right?

Bush and McNabb are members of Porter’s Sewer Rate Committee that meets weekly to determine the scope of work needed to bring Porter into compliance with state-mandated sewer upgrades, how much that work would cost, and possible financing options to pay for it.

That’s where the committee’s obligation stops, said town director of engineering Matt Keiser. How to proceed after that is the Town Council’s decision.

The tentative timetable is for the Sewer Committee to present the Town Council with the facts March 9 and to recommend they meet publicly with representatives of the town’s Redevelopment Commission and Stormwater Management Board to discuss possible cost-sharing scenarios.

The Redevelopment Commission generates money through dedicated property taxes raised within designated districts; the commission currently is discussing how much it wants to spend of a possible $5.5 million it could raise to promote development of the 31-acre, $350,000 Brickyard parcel it bought adjacent to downtown.

The Stormwater Board collects a monthly fee from all owners of developed property; increasing that fee has been discussed to speed up addressing town drainage problems.

Also mentioned Monday as possible revenue sources to fund sewer capital improvements are pledging an annual portion of Porter’s future County Economic Development Income Tax or CEDIT money, and using proceeds from an Indiana state revolving loan coupled with a town bond issue.

Even Major Moves highway money could be used to repair roads over sewer construction, said committee member and Town Councilman Dave Babcock.

Town financial consultant Karl Cender was asked to crunch the numbers on various scenarios and report back to the committee March 8.

Sewer Committee member Bob Poparad, who owns Pinkerton Oil in Porter, recommended using a hybrid financing approach to lessen the impact on town residents who are sewer ratepayers. Sewer rates in Porter were increased 30 percent in 2008.

Monday, Keiser estimated sewer capital improvements would cost between $4.1 million and $6.5 million depending on the scope of work chosen; some projects are required to meet the agreed order’s 2012 deadline.

Deemed as needing immediate attention are a new Porter Avenue lift station, gravity line and force main ($452,000) and a new Triangle Trail lift station ($300,000) near U.S. 12 in the Dunes Forest Trail area.

Also tied to agreed-order compliance is a $2.8 million reline of the 70 year-old downtown sewer lines; it would cost about $4.5 million to install new sewers there. A complete reline of the Triangle-area sewers would add $2.4 million; a less-expensive, stop-gap option is a $550,000 Triangle stormwater project to remove groundwater infiltration. An additional $525,000 could be spent to upgrade interchangable parts at 15 other lift stations.

Keiser calculated that if the upgrades chosen include the Triangle improvements and $100,000 a year placed in a non-reverting fund for future sewer projects, when taking into account annual sewer operating costs and a 20-year bond issue repayment, Porter’s sewer utility would be under-funded by $738,382 annually.

The utility would be under-funded by $615,900 if the $2.4 million Triangle sewer reline is omitted but the $100,000 reserve retained. If the reserve isn’t funded, said committee members, future Porter administrations will be facing the same problems the current one does because of non-maintained sewers.

The projections do not include a likely rate increase from the town of Chesterton, which processes Porter ‘s sewage at Chesterton’s treatment plant located in Porter.

A sewer rate increase would be spread across all sewer customers.

Sewer Committee member Sue Huyser asked, “If we do the downtown, what’s to stop people in Porter Cove or Dune Meadows from saying, ‘Why am I paying for the people downtown’?” Replied committee and Town Council member Jon Granat, “Why do I pay for a fire truck if my house doesn’t catch fire?”

Bush said a home is the biggest investment most people make. “I don’t want a porta pot in my yard. I want to operate the sewage I have.”

McNabb predicted that if the town doesn’t get a handle on its sewer problems soon, “You’ll have an (emergency) Oak Hill project every month and you’ll be going nuts.”

 

Posted 3/2/2010