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Utility district addresses campground rates for Shipshewana project

The LaGrange County Regional Utility District met in special session Tuesday afternoon to discuss options for two church campgrounds that sit in the Shipshewana West project area.

The district’s legal counsel, John Gastineau, told the board that the two campgrounds, the Shipshewana Brethren Retreat Center and the Michiana Baptist Camp, have expressed concerns over the advertised rates. Gastineau told the board that rather than wait for the subject to come up at the scheduled public meeting next Monday, the board should look at their options now.

The district had three options to consider, Gastineau said.

First was to leave the rates as advertised, which is $18.16 per bed per month. The Brethren Retreat Center has reported that it has 100 beds at the camp, which would result in a monthly bill of over $1,800.

The second option is to create a formula comparable to the only other non-profit camp in the district’s service area, the YMCA Camp Potawatomi on CR 700S, which had a billing formula set when the service area was started. The difficulty there, Gastineau said, was that no one could say with certainty how the formula was set for that camp nearly 20 years ago. One theory is that the camp averaged its summer occupancy out over 12 months and is billed on that calculation.

“I would argue that once you decide how to charge the camps at Shipshewana Lake, you change the other camp the same way,” Gastineau told the board.

Gastineau also told the board that going that route could change the camps’ rates enough “that it would put an extreme strain on the single family rate very quickly” in the Shipshewana project area.

Finally, the district could regard the church camps the same as campgrounds and give them the option to meter their flow for billing. The district could also take the lowest billing amount for the summer months – June through August – and apply that rate for the other nine months. The district estimated that the camps’ billing for 100 beds could be closer to $1,500 a month, leaving a gap of close to $300 per month in the calculations.

“An issue to think about is, if you adjust the rate for one group, that one adjustment will affect the other users. If one user pays less than was planned, the other users will have to pick up the costs. That’s how the math works,” Gastineau told the board.

Gastineau later told the board that the Michiana Baptist Camp have told the district from the time the project was proposed that the camp would likely close if they have to pay any sewer fees. That could also put more of the cost on the other users.

The board gave its financial advisor, Jeff Rowe of Umbaugh & Associates, the go-ahead to refine the numbers so that the district could present proposed meter rates to the camps at the public meeting next Monday.

“I think it’s the fairest, most legitimate, most legal way to go,” Board President Mike Sutter noted. He added that he realized that the rates will be difficult for the camps, but that the $68 single family home rate will also be difficult for some living around the lake.

The public hearing on the proposed rate ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, at the Wolfe Building in Shipshewana.