WARSAW — This was a busy year for Lakeland Regional Sewer District. Now in only its second year of operation, the board of trustees has been largely successful in its efforts to connect all 1,653 properties to the sewer system.
Those customers also received an enhanced billing and collection service in 2019, when the district changed vendors from Jones, Petrie, Rafinski to Astbury Water Technologies, the same company overseeing the day-to-day operations of the sewer system. Looking ahead, a major goal for 2020 is to perform a sewer rate study.
“At the beginning of 2019, there were 29 properties out of 1,653 that had failed to connect to the sanitary sewer system,” said Jim Haney, board president, “At the end of 2019 that number has been reduced to 10.”
The numbers far exceed expectations, said Greg Gear, LRSD manager. “We heard from other districts we’d be lucky to get 70% connected.”
LRSD customers’ enhanced billing and collection services include the ability to view their bill and pay online with credit card or from their checking account, the option of paperless billing and automated ACH draft and online information management, with payment and billing history availability.
The board hopes for further online enhancements when it launches a new, improved website sometime this winter.
The board also developed a written process for filing liens against properties whose accounts are 120 days or more past due. Liens will be filed twice per year. With the help of legal counsel, Carson LLP, a process was also devised for waiving some penalties for new owners of properties bought in tax or sheriff sales.
The cost of LRSD legal fees diminished considerably in 2019 when the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the district’s definition of mobile home parks as part of its rate ordinance. Pine Bay Resort, Northcrest R.V. Park, Barbee Landing Mobile Home Park and Kuhn Lake Lakeside Resort were designated “mobile home courts.” Currently, there are only two properties in the district, which serves the Barbee Lakes area, designated as campgrounds: Pik-A-Spot and The Moorings.
In 2019, Treasurer Mike DeWald received the board’s permission to invest available funds in CDs, which he expects to generate approximately $13,000 annually in additional revenue from the district.
A comprehensive list of assets most likely to need replacement during the first 20 years of operation was created by the board in 2019. “The cost of replacing those assets will be considered as part of next year’s rate study,” said Haney.
Throughout 2019 the board reviewed multiple appeals for rate reductions and requests for waiving failure to connect penalties. Reductions were reviewed where sewer producing structures had been properly vacated.
Along with the successful launch of a new LRSD website, the board’s objectives for 2020 include performing a sewer rate study. New sewer rates, said Haney, must be “just and equitable and sufficient to cover the costs identified in Indiana Code 13-26-11-9.” Board members believe two years of operational experience should translate into a more realistic rate than what is currently being charged.
This year also saw the departure of Greg Mitchell after six years of service during what Haney described as “difficult times,” when the district was still in planning stages.
The board will “work with Kosciusko County Commissioners in appointing a person to fill the current LRSD board of trustees vacancy,” Haney concluded.