The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 18, 2021 1:00 am

Sewer district board makeup debated amid acquisition talks

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

County representation on the Allen County Regional Water and Sewer District will have to be addressed before Fort Wayne City Council will approve City Utilities' acquisition of the district.

Matthew Wirtz and Kumar Menon of City Utilities presented the acquisition of the sewer district as something county sewer customers likely wouldn't notice – aside from the significant rate decreases. The acquisition would lower each district customer's rate by about $600 a year, which adds up to $1.8 million annually in savings.

The sewer district, which was established in 1979, serves about 3,150 customers.

The presentation included a timeline that started this year, but Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-6th, said the story actually began in 2018, when customers in the Hoagland area saw a 62% rate increase.

“We started the fire, and now we're putting the fire out, right?” she asked, rhetorically.

The savings are still needed, Tucker said, but she won't support the acquisition if it means taking away the voices of those customers. Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, D-at large, and Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, also pushed the City Utilities officials on establishing fair representation on the sewer district's board.

Ensley said the majority of the board's representation needs to be non-city residents because the district serves only customers in the county.

The board currently has three representatives appointed by the Allen County commissioners, one by Allen County Council, one by the Allen County Department of Health and two from Mayor Tom Henry. But Menon said that would not make any sense once City Utilities acquires the sewer district. The proposed sewer district board would have one representative appointed by the commissioners, one by County Council, one by Woodburn City Council, one from Henry, one from Fort Wayne City Council and four from City Utilities. 

As proposed, representation will change from five county appointees and two city appointees to three county appointees and five city appointees. 

“The modified version in front of you is the max we can go,” Menon said, adding that having a city-majority board will protect the city's assets.

With the acquisition, the sewer district board could be dissolved since the district's customers will be handled by the city. However, Christopher Janak, the attorney helping City Utilities with acquisition, said keeping the district intact opens up more funding opportunities. It will also allow the city to reach out to customers beyond 10 miles outside its municipal limits.

Menon said the city needs to have the majority of board representation because the in-city customers will be on the hook to cover costs of the acquisition. Janak said the district's customers would have the same lack of representation that the current 15,000 city sewage customers outside the city have.

The acquisition agreement will have to be approved by the sewer district and City Council before it goes to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for final approval.

The board voted unanimously to table the sewer district discussion until the next meeting Tuesday. Ensley suggested that Menon talk with City Utilities and the sewer district to establish different representation on the board.

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