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Ducking the public

Huntertown Town Council members made a momentous decision last week that could be a sign that the town’s financial stability is in peril. But many residents are likely unaware of the council’s plans to borrow as much as $500,000 from the water utility to cover costs in a nearly depleted sewer budget.

Contrary to every tenet of good government, the questionable borrowing measures were introduced, discussed and passed at the meeting but did not appear on the agenda. At least they were not on the agenda posted on the town’s website or the agenda given to the public before the meeting.

The two resolutions, one creating a Huntertown Water Utility Cash Reserve Fund and the other authorizing the sewer utility to borrow from the fund, were unexpectedly introduced toward the end of the meeting by the town’s attorney, David Hawk. Council members were advised that the resolutions had to be passed at that meeting.

Town leaders are trying to build a wastewater treatment plant instead of using Fort Wayne City Utilities as the town’s sewer service provider. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management turned down Huntertown’s request for a permit to build its own sewer plant. But Huntertown is attempting to appeal that decision.

The effort to build a sewage plant has used up the town’s sewer budget, lending further credence to the arguments from those who oppose the plan. Despite switching from a flat sewage rate to a metered rate at the beginning of the year to increase revenue, Huntertown’s sewer budget has been depleted.

“It’s in a lot of hurt,” said Janine Rudolph, Huntertown’s deputy clerk-treasurer. “We transferred some money over because it’s needed. It’s hurting.”

Town leaders had to have known the proposal to borrow money was coming but neglected to inform citizens.

When asked about the resolutions, Huntertown Council President Sue Gongwer said, “You’re going to have to call Dave Hawk on that.”

Hawk did not respond to a message left at his office.

The sewer system needs additional money for operating expenses and improvements to the collections system. Town leaders may have had little choice but to borrow from the water utility, but they certainly had a choice about keeping residents informed about the problem and providing public notice about the impending votes.

This is not the first time Huntertown’s elected leaders have failed in their duty to operate with transparency and keep the public informed. Huntertown is becoming emblematic of small-town politics at its worst.