EDITORIAL: Hammond, neighboring towns should work through sewer contract without terse posturing

2013-09-15T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Hammond, neighboring towns should work through sewer contract without terse posturing nwitimes.com
September 15, 2013 12:00 am

Tearing up a contract before its life is complete is rarely a good way to do business.

In both the public and private sectors, contracts are forged to protect the interests of both providers and receivers of services. Our nation's fiscal system is intertwined with safeguards afforded by contract law for a very important reason.

Sometimes it may be necessary to renegotiate contracts as the agreements near their expiration dates and become outmoded, no longer serving a practical purpose for one or both parties. But outright tearing up the contract sends the wrong message.

The Sanitary District of Hammond and Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. appear to be doing just that where the services rendered by the city's wastewater treatment facility to other cities and towns are concerned. Hammond needs to pull back from this extreme posturing and work this out at the negotiating table.

McDermott wants Griffith, Highland and Whiting to pay more for wastewater treatment provided by the Hammond Sanitary District under a long-held contract between Hammond and the neighboring cities and towns.

In an Aug. 28 letter to Griffith, the Hammond Sanitary District announced its members had voted to terminate its contract with Griffith -- a contract that had not been set to expire until 2017.

McDermott told The Times recently that Griffith, Highland and Whiting aren't paying their fair share of increasing costs and are pumping more sewage into the system than is allowed by the decades-old contract parameters. McDermott postured that the district could cut off service to those communities as well -- though he backed off that threat in a recent interview with The Times reporter Bill Dolan.

The posturing by Hammond led to lawsuits filed recently by Whiting and Griffith. Those communities are arguing the contract should be enforced and arbitration enacted to settle the parties' differences.

Hammond's costs have gone up, no doubt. And in order to continue effectively serving the sewer needs of its own community and the residents of the other cities and towns, more revenue may be needed.

That's something that can and should be addressed when contracts expire or through mutual negotiations to amend contracts -- not from cancellations and terse threats.

It's also reasonable to discuss an increase in fees based on new, more accurate meters, but let's put it on the negotiating table. Hash this out in a reasonable manner without being forced to resort to lawsuits to settle the dispute.

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