Friday, February 10, 2006


September 7, 2005


Like the Eminent Domain case that hit the news several weeks ago, certain local municipalities are enforcing abusive state statutes that affect our property rights. Rural Indiana is under siege. Make no mistake about it, if you devote enough time to read this in its entirety you will be stunned to discover what is happening in your neighborhood.

Let me explain: A serious stink is brewing in the little Town of St. Leon that affects not only the residents of that town but also Dover, Logan, West Harrison and Batesville. If you are reading this and think that because you do not live here it doesn’t pertain to you, stick with me because you’re wrong.

Those of us who live in the rural areas and small towns in Indiana have seen changes everywhere recently. We’ve known it was coming for years, slow at first then spreading and accelerating. I’m talking about development. Most of us would like to see it happen slowly, at a moderate density, and located in natural growth areas. St. Leon’s sewer line is a key component for this growth. Big Development is influencing the zoning of property with promises of tax revenue for the county at little infrastructure cost. The seductive advances of developers, along with their complicit lawyers, has the county government approving more and faster growth, reckless and Hell bent, regardless of the good for the community.

Not that all growth is bad. A few new businesses and a few new neighbors can be convenient and welcomed additions to the community. Over the years the natural bucolic countryside where I live has witnessed curbside trash collection from Cincinnati, water from Bright, natural gas from Batesville, and telephone, cable TV, and DSL Internet from Sunman. Many of you have seen the same thing – welcomed utilities and services coming out from various towns in a flow of modest, responsible development.

However, an obnoxious demon has worked its way in with the new influx, and this utility has become a thrashing rogue elephant intent on having it’s own way without regard for normal people living normal lives. The St. Leon Waste Water Treatment Plant [SLWWTR] has been vested with immense power and independence by our State Legislators; yet the State has very limited technical and managerial supervision over this Utility. We’re talking sewage here, one of the aspects of life we’d rather not dwell on. But it is one of those things that needs efficient handling if we are to live in a healthy and clean environment. We are certainly not opposed to an efficient, competent treatment business. Cleanliness and healthy living is the main reason a lot of us choose to live in the country.

We also live here because we appreciate our independence. The utilities in neighboring towns know that they offer services many families benefit from and desire. They don’t mind if independent souls here and there keep drinking the water from their wells or flushing their toilets into their own septic systems. So long as the Health Department is satisfied with its sanitary performance, who is to complain?

Around here the town of St. Leon and its Town Council, headed by Doug Farrow and augmented by Andy Bischoff and Jerry Stenger, are the ones to complain. And they don’t stop there. Operating with sweeping powers granted by Indiana Statute 36-9-23-0 they have sent “90 Day Letters of Mandatory Connection” to hundreds of homeowners demanding them to hookup to their sewer system.

They are threatening swift legal action if their dictates are not followed. This is crazy but the Indiana State Department of Environmental Management [IDEM] limits its oversight to protecting the purity of the Whitewater River, and doesn’t protect the interest, the rights, or the welfare of the areas residents. As we’ll see, this isn’t the end of the discrepancies between power and responsibility in the operation of this obnoxious utility.

If you live within 10 miles of St Leon and you haven’t gotten one of these legal extortion letters yet, you’ll likely see one sometime in the next few years. If you ignore this injunction it’s at your own peril. You’ll be taken to court, where your tax dollars pay for the Town’s lawyer, John Watson from Sunman, to prosecute you. Indirectly we are paying the fees of the attorney who is attacking us. Then after you’ve paid your taxes you will need to pay for your own representation.

Fail to hook up and they’ll begin to bill you for monthly sewer fees anyway. Fail to pay and they’ll place your property under a tax lien. Which is what happened to Jim and Kim Metcalf; their case is currently in litigation with SLWWTP. Wait a little longer and the day of the Sheriff’s Sale will arrive. Your property could be sold at auction to pay for the sewer service you aren’t using. The Town of St Leon, represented by Mr. Watson, is planning to carry out the initial 30 cases on certain unlucky souls. Farrow, Bischoff and Stenger [known as the Town Council] announced this at the last monthly Sewer Board meeting. They directed Watson to start the process of sending out court notices.

Ok, maybe you’re a bit skeptical. You may say that there is a beneficial trade-off between not having to maintain our independent septic tanks, and the SLWWTP’s regular monthly sewer bill. If only it worked that way.

St. Leon operates a “forced pressure” system, not a “gravity” system. Instead of a few large pump stations maintained by the town to manage the hills and uneven terrain in our area, each homeowner has his own “grinder pump.” He has to buy it, maintain it, and replace it if it fails. And, if a poorly timed electrical outage occurs, this cuts all power to the system. Your toilets can’t flush and your drains won’t empty. Why should we abandon our working septic systems and gamble on the weather’s effects regarding power outages for reliable service?

The Town of St. Leon has resorted to predatory enforcement tactics in order to gain membership and then gouge us with sky-high tap in fees. They operate as a monopoly, and their fees are set at unrealistic levels. They have priced themselves out of the market!

Connection Fees are just the beginning of the expenses. Consider the installation, maintenance and monthly user charges. The homeowner has to buy the grinder pump, pay for the pipe and trenching, install a fiberglass crock, pay for electrical equipment, inspection fees, and fill in the existing septic cavity and seal it.

• The tap-in fee is $4,000.
• Grinder pumps average $2,500. [Some setbacks may require 2 or more pumps].
• Pipe & trenching at $8 per foot. [300’ = $2,400, 600’ = $4,800, 1,000’ = $8,000].
• Fiberglass crock between $200 and $400.
• Electrical expenses are uncertain depending where you live. $300-?
• Seal existing septic tank for $400 to $600.
• Cross under a road to reach the line, add another $750.

Our set back is 800’ so it would cost my family at least $16,000. Donna and Jeff Imfeld have a set back that would cost a minimum of $25,000. Then there will be a bi-monthly user bill, and like all other services it will consistently rise, forever.

Now let’s review the legal aspect some more. If the Town snakes one of their lines within 300 feet of the property line of a rural resident it is their policy to send the resident a “90-day” threat letter, forcing sewer hookup. It doesn’t matter If the house is set back 500 or a 1,000 feet -- the Sewer Board doesn’t care. Farrow states, “it’s the law, we have to force this.” He isn’t talking straight to us. They are the ones who wrote the language of the ordinance giving them the power to force the connection.

No one we’ve contacted at the County Court House or at the State level said they are demanding St. Leon to take this action. Watson, at the August 16th public sewer meeting, was asked whether or not the State was pressing St. Leon to make it legally mandatory for sewer hook-ups. After several swerves and dodges he finally admitted “No.”

The wisdom coming from Dearborn County Health Department and the County Commissioner is “that it’s in everyone’s best interest to leave the folks with good septic systems alone.”

So, the term “legal extortion letter” is not so inaccurate as it seems. The recipient of one of the letters has 90 days, under threat of punitive financial penalties, to pay thousands of dollars, to tap in to the sewer line. Then pay even larger amounts for equipment and labor to wind up with a “service” neither needed nor wanted, then face ongoing billings and maintenance responsibilities. Such a deal, sign up and subscribe or face a court appointment. It’s a stinky, lousy, obnoxious raw deal!

It didn’t start out this way. The Indiana state legislators granted State funding to facilitate the infrastructure to develop this region. 10 years ago their system was much needed and much more palatable. Originally the tap-in fee was only $400, and they paid for the grinder pump along with
[up to] 300 feet of free pipe. The installation and maintenance were provided at no cost with a lifetime warranty. Shouldn’t they be made to explain why the cost of the hook-up is 10 times the original fee?

Hookup was voluntary back then, especially for those outside the Town’s limits. Some were told they would never have to connect because the lines were not scheduled to come anywhere near their property. Now, we find that Big Development overtly influenced the St. Leon advisory Board to bring the lines into their subdivisions, which in turn brought them into our neighborhoods. Which is why we have received the threatening “90 Day” letters. Many times over again the St. Leon Board Members and their plant management has changed hands and the old pronouncements of “voluntary” became “mandatory.”

Mandatory at a cost of ten times the original tap in fee. We need to empathize that we would consider joining, but the Town has priced itself out of what the market can bare. We just can’t afford it. Ellenore Wells is 84 years old and lives on a fixed income of $647 per month. Where is she going to get this kind of money? Let’s not leave out Mr. Mutaugh over on Route 1, he’s 87; and Thelma Zimmer, she’s 86; Stanley Fuchs is the youngster at 80. This list goes on and on, and everyone on the list has working septic tanks in good condition.

The early adopters got off light, but as these lines spread new customers [victims] are facing the burden of propping up a failing enterprise. We are being asked to make up for the generosity of their earlier deals in order to accommodate development in this agricultural zoned area. They are not profitable, currently they are operating in the red, and if they are to provide a service to the community the State’s licensing regulator [IDEM] requires them to be solvent.

The State law gives the Town of St. Leon the power to build their sewer lines, and enforce their will, out to 10 miles beyond their borders in all directions. Ten miles, that’s 750 square miles of rural, semi rural and agricultural land. The demonizing tentacles of St. Leon’s officials reach far beyond their township alone. It encompasses hundreds of square miles inhabited by people who don’t live in St. Leon and therefore can’t vote in St. Leon.

The Town Council, and the ordinances it passes, controls the Sewer Board and the actions and policies of the Waste Water Treatment Plant. This town of 337 people, one stop sign, with only one town employee, holds sway over other individuals by enforcing their laws on us. We have no democratic influence on them or their business plan. We have no vote when it comes to elections. Non-residents of the Town can join the Sewer Board, but only by appointment from the Town Council, and only if you are hooked into the sewer line. Yeah right.

Our ancestors fought a whole revolution about “taxation without representation” and now the State of Indiana has granted authority, unaccompanied by regulatory oversight, to the Town of St. Leon to force its will upon people it doesn’t democratically represent. Citizens beware, this should strike a cord deep inside you – the ultimate insult - worse than the financial injury, is to suffer the arrogance of unaccountable power.

Ongoing development in this area will use up the remaining capacity of the sewage system. Why rob the plant of its dwindling capacity by forcing 130 families who don’t need it and can’t afford it. Keep that capacity for the new homes, condos and subdivisions planned for this area.

We have to lobby the State to rescind or limit their arbitrary grant of power to municipalities over rural residents in the matter of sewer development. Also, regulate a fair pricing structure to enable connection, as was the original deal [remember the $400 fee, free pump, 300 ft of free pipe, installation and free maintenance].

Let’s also try lobbying the Dearborn County officials, who do count on our votes, to use their influence with the inner workings of the Town of St. Leon and Doug Farrow, Andy Bischoff and Jerry Stenger. It is criminal for the Town Council to be so ruthless to the very people they are supposed to be representing. This is an outrageous and arrogant path that they are blazing, especially since they live here and operate small businesses here.

The most immediate solution would be to shame the Town Council out of using their predatory policy of paying for their infrastructure needs out of the pockets of citizens outside of their town limits.

It might also be beneficial to attend County meetings to see how they operate and what they have planned for the community. Town Council meets at 7:30 PM on the first Monday of every month, and the Sewer Board meets at 7:00 PM on the third Tuesday of each month, at the town’s Fire Station.

Thomas Patrick Hammond
September 7, 2005
Logan Township

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