The Journal Gazette
 
 
Tuesday, November 23, 2021 1:00 am

Sewer board keeps majority from city

DEVAN FILCHAK and ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne City Council will revisit a proposal for City Utilities to acquire the Allen County Regional Water and Sewer Board today after council members asked for the majority of board members to be county representatives. 

The sewer district's board conducted a special meeting Monday to reconsider the board makeup once the district is acquired by Fort Wayne City Utilities. Small changes were made to the board's makeup, but the majority will still be city representatives.  

According to the agreement approved Monday, the board will have nine members – one appointed by City Council, one each appointed by the Allen County Council and the Allen County commissioners and five appointed by the mayor.

The ninth member will be appointed by Woodburn and will serve only until that city stops treating sewage under an agreement with the district that lasts until 2027, unless the agreement is terminated sooner.

The Woodburn board appointment will then revert to the commissioners. In the proposal tabled by City Council last week, the appointment would have reverted to the mayor. 

The new proposal passed the current board by a 4-0 vote, the smallest number of members present to achieve a quorum. Two members, Tim Roy and Tom Rotering, were absent, and one seat is vacant.

Those voting for the new agreement were Ric Zehr, Kevin McDermit, along with Matthew Wirtz and Justin Brugger of City Utilities.

The proposed agreement became an issue at last week's City Council meeting when members were presented with the opportunity for the city to acquire the regional sewer district. Its more than 3,000 customers would join City Utilities, which has been treating those customers' sewage for some time.

While proponents of the acquisition have touted lower bills for county residents, some council members were not swayed. Council President Paul Ensley, R-1st, said the sewer district board might only represent a few thousand customers now but could have many more as county residents join the district in the future.

Ensley said he does not favor a district where the majority of board seats were not controlled by the county since the district represents county residents. Council members Sharon Tucker, D-6th, and Michelle Chambers, D-at large, also said they favored more county representation.

“I guess where I'm at with this, I would like to see a board with City Council representation and a county majority, and I would like to make a motion to hold until next week to see if we can make some progress on that,” Ensley said.

The board now has seven members – three appointed by the Allen County commissioners, one by Allen County Council, one by the Allen County Department of Health and two by Mayor Tom Henry.

The first board proposal would have had one member appointed by the commissioners, one by the Allen County Council, one by Woodburn City Council, one by Henry, one by Fort Wayne City Council and four from City Utilities. In the past, the mayoral representatives have been City Utilities staff.

If the acquisition is approved, the board would be largely inactive, but could be invoked in some cases when funds are being sought, members have said. 

The final OK for the acquisition and the board membership must come from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after approval by City Council.

Allen County Council members also shared concerns Thursday with the board's lack of county representation.

“Every proposal that has been put forth gives Fort Wayne a supermajority, so they are negotiating with themselves on both sides,” said Mitch Harper, County Council attorney. “Who does that?”

Harper suggested that any county residents or officials who are concerned contact the state agency. Anyone who would like to share their opinions on board representation and the acquisition can send a letter to Sierra Alberts, IDEM attorney, by emailing salberts@idem.in.gov. 

City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in Room 30 of Citizens Square.  

rsalter@jg.net

dfilchak@jg.net


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