By Caleigh Byrer
WARSAW — Lakeland Sewer District Board of Trustees discussed the rate ordinance and voided two customer bills at the Wednesday, Oct. 19, meeting.
Randy Cripe said he received a bill of $776.66 to replace a damaged lid. He had issues with the functionality of the system and as a result of the damaged lid, the grinder had to be opened to resolve the issue.
Cripe said the damage to the lid occurred prior to his purchase of the home, but as nothing was mentioned to him at the time of purchase, he thought the system was still perfectly functional. He was able to present the board photos he took prior to purchasing the home, which he always did as a precaution, proving the damage was done before he took ownership.
Cripe stated he could visibly see the lid was cracked and was aware of it, but assumed it was reported by the previous owner and the system wasn’t affected. After telling Cripe the lids and grinders aren’t routinely checked without reason or report and a disclosure obligation at the time of purchase would not include this issue, the board opted to rescind the charge.
Larry, no last name given, spoke in representation of Lake Estates, which received a bill of $2,200 for repairs of damage resulting from a storm. Larry stated that since they did not cause the damage and it was an act of God, they should not be liable.
The board deliberated on the issue, and as the ordinance states the property owner must pay for damage if they cause it, the board must honor the flip side of that — if a property owner is not responsible for the damage, they are not required to pay for it. The charge for Lakeland Estates was rescinded.
During his treasurer’s report, Mike DeWald expressed that the district is financially in good standing except for maintenance costs, as there is actively a steady increase.
Jeff Rowe of Baker Tilly presented a rate study and financial recommendations to ensure that the board is on track for the prospective 2023 budget plan. The rate study included a comparison to surrounding sewer districts that revealed even though the other systems were built prior to the Lakeland district system, nearly all of them had higher rates.
A multi-phase rate increase of 12% was proposed, allowing the board to raise the rate over an extended period of time rather than all at once. The new proposed rate is still lower than the statewide average and below some of the other rates in the area.
As the rate between the 2016 adoption and present has been fairly consistent, the board is allowed to raise the rate significantly from the present cost, but does not plan to do so. The increase is to help offset the rising costs of maintenance, materials and other expenditures, not overcharge users because it is within their legal ability.
Bill Boyle, DLZ Corporation, presented the engineering report and referenced the rising costs of material, stating, “For example, aluminum for walkways, stairs and things like that, on Aug. 1 the cost was X. Now it is 4X. So if it was $100, it is now $400 for that same piece of aluminum.”
The board did not come to a concrete decision how they plan to raise the rates, but they do not expect it to be before the new year. As the vast majority of users are probably aware of the surging costs across the nation, the board is not overly concerned about conflict from raising the rates and believes users will not be caught by surprise. They plan to continue discussion and planning at the next meeting on Nov. 16.