Markle utilities rate reviewer says water rates need to rise to cover costs

The findings of a study of the town’s sewer and water rates was presented to the Markle Town Council by Jeffrey Rowe of Umbaugh & Associates at a very busy meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Noting that the water utility does not have any debt, Rowe said the town’s current rate of $25.12 per 5,000 gallons of water used hasn’t been raised since 2009. He said the town is on the lower end of the spectrum when its water rates are compared to other similarly-sized communities.

The water utility’s revenue of $180,500 is $55,000 short of the $235,500 needed, with maintenance costs expected to rise.

Rowe recommended an increase of roughly $5.87 per month for 5,000 gallons to cover anticipated increases in operating costs, with an average residential monthly bill of $25.12. He added that using County Economic Development Income Tax funds could help lower the rate impact.

“We’ve been able to keep those rates pretty low,” noted Council President Jeff Humbarger.

The sewer rate study shows the utility’s revenue of $231,000 is $88,000 short of the $319,000 required, Rowe said. He recommended going from a rate of $2.68 per 1,000 gallons per month to $3.70, resulting in an average monthly charge of $47.85 for 5,000 gallons, an increase of $13.20.

In other business before the council:

• Residents in the neighborhood that includes Girvin Street, West Mercury Street and North Clark Street on Markle’s north end, heard some encouraging news from Wells County Surveyor Jarrod Hahn during the meeting.

The area is in Wells County.

Hahn told the residents in attendance at the meeting that he will look at the maps of their properties and work on fixing the flooding and standing water that has plagued many of the homeowners in the neighborhood. He took names and addresses of the affected properties and said he plans to do some survey work of the area.

He said he believed the water issues are caused by two different problems, one with the tile structure and another with flooding problems. He added that the subdivision wasn’t built with a very large drainage pipe, which is another potential problem.

Hahn said the tile drainage system in place was installed in 1914 and meant for field use. According to code, landowners could petition the Drainage Board to extend the drain, he said. A reconstruction project would require hiring an engineer.

Another wrinkle is that the land is located on the county line, which may necessitate a joint Huntington County and Wells County drainage board to address the issues, with Hahn being the surveyor of record.

Town Superintendent Rick Asher recommended that residents not fill in the ditches that have been constructed in the neighborhood. He presented a map that showed where water mains and the eight-inch storm sewer pipes have been installed in the subdivision. He proposed they run a trencher down through the tiles in front of each house to the main ditch, which would allow the water to run to the natural ditch using sump pumps and yard drains.

As far as who will pay for the improvements, Asher said that would be up to the town to decide; however, Hahn said costs would likely be spread among those who live in that area.

• There was no public comment during a hearing on the proposed $1.7 million budget, presented in its first reading. The second reading will be at the Oct. 18 council meeting with a vote held at that time to adopt it.

• Marla Stambazze, of the Huntington Countywide Department of Community Development, presented recommendations on two neglected properties that have fallen into disrepair.

The first, located at 275 Clark St., owned by James and Amanda Alford, is “extremely unsafe,” Stambazze said. At her recommendation the council voted to seek demolition bids to be opened at the Oct. 18 council meeting if nothing is done. The owners have until Oct. 10 to make the required improvements.

Another property, 235 Wilt St., which is owned by Seth Tracy, of Fort Wayne, is eligible to be included in the county’s Sept. 26 tax sale, Stambazze said. However, the person who buys the property will not be able to touch it for a year; the original owner has a year from the sale date to pay the tax and get the property back. In the meantime, the property will sit as is and continue to deteriorate.

“The bankruptcy has been closed; nobody wants this house,” she said, adding the house appears to have mold and the roof is damaged. The house’s coal chute is also open and needs to be secured.

Stambazze said she wanted to see it bid out for demolition, tear it down and put a lien on the taxes. Town Clerk-Treasurer Carolyn Hamilton said she is aware of two parties who are interested in purchasing the property in the tax sale.

Humbarger directed Asher to make sure the coal chute is secured. The council then unanimously voted to table a decision until its next meeting, in order to find out whether the property was purchased in the tax sale.

• Brandy and Jeremy Dorseif presented a proposal to the council to amend an ordinance regarding keeping livestock within city limits. The couple, who live on Lee Street, have chickens they say are pets and want to keep them at their home.

Humbarger said he would confer with the town’s attorney about changing the ordinance in favor of granting waivers for a specific period of time to allow the Dorseifs to keep chickens on their property.

• Leaf pickup season is coming up in about a week, Asher said. He reminds residents to put their leaves out as close to the curb as possible. Pickup days will be Mondays and Tuesdays.

• Halloween trick-or-treat hours were also announced. Halloweeners can trick or treat on Tuesday, Oct. 31, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.