Government Center

MOROCCO – After nearly an hour-long discussion and at times a debate on whether the Newton County Council should fund a $9 million request from the Newton County Commissioners on behalf of the Newton County Regional Water and Sewer District (NCRWSD), the council tabled any action until more information was ironed out.

Randy Decker, president of the NCRWSD, along with Commissioner Tim Drenth, who also serves on the NCRWSD and Wessler Engineering came before the council on Sept. 11 to explain the multi-million dollar request.

Decker informed the council that the discussion of running sewer up to 10 has been ongoing for years now, and it became, even more, a possibility when the district built the new water and sewer plant on the north end just a few years ago.

“The project could be massive,” stated Decker regarding future developments up in Lincoln Township.

Decker went on to say that the State Revolving Fund (SRF) could help pay for later phases of the project and that the $9 million is just to get the project going and is considered phase 1 of possibly 4 or 5 phases.

“We believe they (SRF) are 100 percent behind the project,” said Decker. “Our goal is to get it (the infrastructure) up there and see what happens. The other phases all depend on the interest. We are just trying to plant the seed.”

The first phase of the proposed project would include extending a sewer line from the district’s new plant on 700N up CR 400E to SR 10 and then east along 10 to 450E where it would extend north past Lincoln Elementary. Also part of phase 1 would include adding a drinking water supply (2 shallow wells), treatment, and distribution to that same area.

The sewer portion of the cost was estimated at $5.5 million, while the drinking water supply had an estimate of $2.95 million.

“Ultimately we would like to get a (water) tower up there for fire protection,” added Decker.

Wessler Engineering stated that the original intent of phase 1 was to get utilities to Lincoln Elementary, however when asked if the school corporation was onboard or willing to help financially, Drenth answered that the last time there were any talks with the school was more than three years ago, but he would be willing to negotiate.

Drenth has said in several meetings that he is pushing this project for a potential residential development of 90 homes. “My only purpose of doing this project would be to serve those potential 90 lots,” said Drenth back in February.

“If this is the main reason for doing this project, why are the developers not here and when are we going to hear from them,” asked Councilmember Abbey Rossiter.

“You won’t” replied Drenth.

“Do we even know how much the developer is going to chip in for this project,” responded Rossiter.

Drenth stated the developer has its own costs for the project and this is an opportunity to create tax revenue and bring 90 homes there but the developers can’t afford to bring the infrastructure there themselves.

“So you are saying we won’t hear from the developer until our $9 million is already in place then,” answered Rossiter. Drenth replied “yes.”

As for money from SRF, Decker explained that could kick in because the state wants its highway garage, located just off of 10, to be hooked up.

“If this project was truly about getting future business development up on 10 and getting SRF money to help out, why wouldn’t phase 1 be going up County Line Road to that area of 10 where there is plenty of business potential instead of going up 400E and along 10 for only a half a mile in an area that is mostly residential,” asked Rossiter. “I’m not for this project, $9 million is a lot of money to be spent to benefit just one project and one developer. We have all just sat through budget hearings where we saw firsthand how all of the county’s revenue including landfill tipping fees are trending down and we couldn’t even give our own county employees a raise. Plus it’s just not the county who is taking a hit on landfill tipping fees, but the towns and townships are receiving less as well.”

Rossiter also added that while the NCRWSD may have an ordinance grandfathering in already established residences from having to hook up to the new utilities, “there are too many uncertainties in the state statute and a lot of circumstances where residents may have to hook up at some point even if they don’t want to.”

Councilmember Pat Mulligan also touched on that issues stating that if a home is within 300 feet of water and sewer lines and their well or septic fails the homeowners would be required to hook up.

“With all of the possible phases, we would bring water and sewer to all of Roselawn and that would cost much more than $9 million,” added Mulligan. “Are the people in that area willing to pay for that or will it be the county taxpayers paying for it. I believe they should make that decision if they want it and not us. They have to make a decision if they want to incorporate or not.”

“I think it is a worthwhile project and there is potential growth there,” said Council President Scott Carlson. “However, I think there needs to be user dollars contributed to it. I feel the county should put some money into it but there needs to be some payback for it. The people that will be using it need to pay for a pretty large portion of it. My biggest concern today is the status of the new plant and the proposed projects that never materialized. I believe we are in year 6 of a 2-year project.”

The council, commissioners, NCRWSD, and Select Milk are part of multiple agreements connected with the payment for the building of the plant.

“We don’t know what will happen with those agreements especially if there is a default, there’s a chance, it may be a slim chance, but there is a chance we would have to pay that plant off (20-plus million dollars),” added Carlson. “Before we can move forward, these questions need to be answered.”

Councilmember Michael Mark added that he is for getting water and sewer up to 10 because that is where the growth for this county will be but, the county was promised a $350 million cheese plant with 150 jobs and we need to make sure the milestones (for that project with Select Milk) aren’t continually getting delayed.

The council made a motion to table the vote for the $9 million request until more information about the future of the water and sewer plant is known. That motion passed by a 6-1 vote with Rossiter voting no.

“I feel we need to make a decision now and stop kicking this issue down the road,” said Rossiter.