Conservancy district looking to hospital growth to lower tax bills

2012-07-29T00:00:00Z 2012-07-30T00:08:08Z Conservancy district looking to hospital growth to lower tax billsBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Sixty percent of Rich Hardin's $4,133 tax bill this year went to help pay down the cost of the sewer and water lines that are part of the Damon Run Conservancy District.

Hardin, who serves as secretary of the district board, said he and others in Liberty Township are paying some of the highest conservancy district rates in the county.

Representatives from Damon Run will be at the table Monday when the County Council hosts a special meeting to give final consideration to a request by the town of Chesterton for $742,000 in local income tax revenue toward a plan to extend sanitary sewer and water lines south along Ind. 49.

The proposed lines could end up competing with Damon Run, which is hoping to increase its customer base to share the burden of its debt and lower individual payments. The district was created in 2004 and began operations two years later with a $14 million debt to fund the sewer and water distribution system consisting of approximately seven miles of piping.

"The more users we get, the more we can spread this around and ultimately bring it down," Hardin said.

Similar challenges have faced customers of the Falling Waters Conservancy District just east of Lake-Porter County Line Road and south of Division Road in Porter Township.

Customers of Falling Waters pay a flat annual fee of $2,206 per lot. Damon Run's tax rate is significantly higher than seven other districts in the county, according to the auditor's office.

About 250 of Damon Run's residential customers are paying more than the flat fee in Falling Waters, topping out at $3,641 a year, according to figures provided by the county auditor's office. Customers also pay a $12 monthly user fee and a treatment fee based on use.

Damon Run also serves a few commercial sites, including Liberty Intermediate School and the new hospital at the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.

Conservancy districts provide landowners the opportunity to organize a special taxing unit to solve problems related to water resource management, including flood control, water supply and sewage collection and treatment, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Porter County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said last week he liked the project being pitched by Chesterton but did not want to cut off Damon Run's opportunity to build its customer base and lower its special benefits tax.

Hardin is interested in seeing more growth in Damon Run but had no reason to dispute a prediction last week by Chesterton Town Councilman Jeff Trout that there could be enough growth along the Ind. 49 and U.S. 6 corridors for both the town and the conservancy district.

While Damon Run's ability to handle growth in the area of the hospital was called into question last week, the district is using no more than 14 percent of the 346,000 gallons a day it is allowed to send to Portage for treatment, according to city plant supervisor Don Slawnikowski.

The addition of the new hospital will take that figure to no more than 27 percent of capacity, he said.

"They got a ways to go," Slawnikowski said.

The city's treatment plant is operating at 74 percent of its capacity and has been improving those numbers by lining sewers to combat infiltration by rainwater, he said.

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