(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series regarding the efforts to create a sewer conservancy district on Tippecanoe Lake.)
LEESBURG — Confusion and questions have arisen following Tippecanoe Lake Sewer Initiative’s attempt to form a lake conservancy district.
A sewer initiative was formed by a small committee of residents on Tippecanoe Lake who began gathering petition signatures in support of forming the lake conservancy district.
Since that time another group, Friends of Lake Tippy, a non-profit charitable organization, was established to support the 1,500 property owners of Lake Tippecanoe, James Lake and Oswego Lake. This group is soliciting individuals to sign a remonstrance to have his/her name withdrawn from the sewer initiative’s petition.
At this point the petition is in the process of having the signatures validated by the county auditor. Once completed a judge will rule if the signatures are valid and requirements have been met. Following this action, public meetings will be held with the Natural Resources Commission. It will then go to the Kosciusko Circuit Court to confirm if there is a need for the conservancy district.
If a conservancy district is approved, it is a government entity. A board of directors will be appointed by the county commissioners and terms in office established. Future board of directors will be elected by residents within the conservancy district.
There appear to be numerous questions surrounding the formation, purpose, funding, and need of a conservancy district. One such confusion is the difference between a conservancy district and regional sewer district.
Conservancy Vs. Regional Sewer District
There are distinctions between a conservancy district and regional sewer district. However, both are regulated by state statute.
The conservancy district is a local government unit with limited yet specific responsibilities. Creating and operating a conservancy district is controlled under the Indiana Conservancy Act under Indiana Code 14-33.
There are nine issues that can be addressed through the Conservancy Act. Providing for the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage and other liquid wastes is just one. Others issues deal with flood prevention and control, drainage improvement, providing irrigation, preventing the loss of topsoil from water erosion, storage of water for augmentation of stream flow and operation and others.
A circuit court creates the district and its operation is monitored and regulated by the Indiana State Board of Accounts, Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Because it is a local government, the conservancy district must comply with the Indiana Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Law.
This also means the district can utilize reasonable rates and charges to fund the operation of a sanitary sewer collection and treatment system and can impose a real estate property tax to fund its operation. It can also adopt rules and regulations concerning use of the sewer collection and treatment system.
A regional sewer district can be established by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, after a petition is filed by one or more eligible entities to create such a district. These entities include a county, city or township government. The decision to create a sewer district rests with IDEM and then retains oversight responsibility. Like a conservancy district, the regional district is governed by a board of trustees which can be elected by voters, or appointed by elected executive or legislative officers within the district.
A sewer district has no authority to impose a real estate property tax.