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Local legislators: Utility district laws need balance

Both State Senator Sue Glick and State Representative David Yarde attended a public meeting held last October in Shipshewana that saw a lot of complaints raised about regional sewer districts.

Now, with legislation working through the statehouse that has the potential of making significant changes to how those districts work, both Glick and Yarde are keeping a close eye on them.

Yarde is cosponsoring HB1225, which the LaGrange County Regional Utility District was told is the “harsher of the two” at a meeting earlier this week (see related article.)

“Bills don’t come about because of good deeds,” Yarde said Thursday morning. He acknowledged that it was “rogue districts in other parts of the state” that have created the need for the legislation. “The LaGrange County District is above the board,” he added. “The rogue districts are not in Northeast Indiana.”

However, he felt that the state had its hand forced due to the other districts. Allegations of abuse of eminent domain and monthly fees of $80 or more have required the state to make corrections, he noted.

Yarde said that it was not the intention of the bills to stop future systems from being developed. However, the LaGrange County Regional Utility District noted at their meeting Tuesday that could be what happens. “But with the tough economic times, a lot of families can’t afford new bills,” Yarde stated.

Yarde also cleared up one issue on board appointments, noting that under the proposed laws a board would include one elected official, such as a county council member or county commissioner. “The other positions would be appointed,” he said.

It is, he said, about finding a balance. “That’s the problem. It’s one side or the other,” he stated. “We will look at some amendments to try to make it more palatable.” He added that the current legislation isn’t perfect and that he feels it needs to be more equitable.

State Senator Sue Glick agreed that a balance needs to be found between economics and environment. “We know what can happen to lakes if you don’t take care of them,” Glick said Thursday morning. However, people shouldn’t be “priced out of their homes.”

Glick said that as the bills come into the Senate next week, she is leaning in favor of the bills, but hasn’t made a decision on them. She is waiting to hear testimony in Senate hearings, as well as receive feedback from the area.

She agreed that the idea of property owners being able to opt out of hooking up could hurt those who do have to hook into the system. “If we start omitting people, then those that are left will pay significant higher rates,” she said.

She also wants to see institutions like the two church camps at Shipshewana Lake be able to continue to operate and not be forced out of business. “We don’t want to see them lost, but they can’t continue if they have to pay each month year-round,” Glick added.

“I don’t know where that balance is,” Glick said. “But, if it (the law) is too hard and too fast, it could put districts out of business.”