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Council fields concerns over impact of water problems, Academies sewer rate

November 23, 2012

Not surprisingly, Culverites -- especially business owners -- had some questions and concerns over the incapacity of Culver's drinking water for five days ending last week, which led to some discussion at the Oct. 13 meeting of Culver's town council.

Town manager Dave Schoeff explained an old water line and valve were exposed Thursday evening during digging of a trench for a new storm line in front of the First Farmers Bank at Main and Jefferson Streets.

The "old method," he said, of restraining a pipe or valve was to use earth, which was moved during the digging process. Water pressure forced the old valve off, resulting in the town's water having to be shut off until around 11:30 that night. By state law, a boil advisory was issued for Culver, which lasted through the holiday weekend and was only lifted around noon on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Schoeff, replying to a question from Cafe Max owner Susie Mahler, noted the state requires two passing water tests for e coli, 24 hours apart, to lift the boil order. No one at the closest testing lab was available Saturday or Sunday, which "put us into a predicament."

Mahler said she researched various labs and discovered at least one which could have conducted the testing over the weekend, though at a cost of over $300 for the test.

"I spent more than that (in operating the business without use of regular town water) in one day," said Mahler.

Rich West, manager of the Culver Cove, said he was also speaking on behalf of Miller's Merry Manor director Greg Fassett.

"By extending (the boil advisory) from a two day to a five day wait, it put an undue burden on local entities, particularly in a health care setting like Miller's."

West said Miller's has to provide fresh water and ice three times per day to every resident. The Cove, he said, had to turn away potential guests when told of the boil requirement.

"The town water department did a superhuman job in getting the fix done so quickly," added West. "My concern is the extended period of testing (and its) huge impact on businesses and public safety."

West said many people assumed town water was safe to drink 48 hours after the break was fixed, something Mahler echoed in noting vacation homeowners may also not have realized there was a boil order. Mahler, noting one business in Culver chose to continue using town water without boiling, said a lab technician told her "someone could have died" had there been e coli present.

West emphasized the town should follow up the problem with a group assessment of how to better responses to similar emergencies in the future, something council members agreed to do and communicate with citizens about.

Audience member Tom Kearns noted information was disseminated about the situation via the town, individual council members, and the Culver Citizen via Facebook and the internet.

"That in and of itself is a nice improvement," he said.

In other matters, lengthy discussion ensued following Schoeff's update to council members regarding meetings with Culver Academies about sewer rates the school is charged, suggesting a rate study should be conducted on sewer rates in addition to a water rate study.

Schoeff pointed out the Academies was "double charged" for several years due to a clerical error adding an extra testing fee to the already built-in one on the school's bill, amounting to $150 per month. It was noted the error was discovered during Schoeff's investigation of the Academies' sewer rate.

Also noticed, he said, was the drop in interest rate from five to 2.6 percent on one of the sewer bonds.

The Academies, he said, "doesn't mind paying for the flow that they use."

It was discussed that the Academies had agreed to do testing for groundwater infiltration in their own system, which -- if discovered -- could help them stem such infiltration and reduce the amount of water they pump into Culver's sewer system.

"They've given up doing that," commented council member Ed Pinder. "They wanted us to cut their rates...we said, 'You check and see what you can do over there (about groundwater infiltration) first.' They haven't done anything. Now they're saying, 'We don't mind paying for that flow, but we want a cut in our base rate.' So this is what they've done; they haven't done what they're supposed to do."

Schoeff distinguished between the base rate customers are billed -- which involves paying for sewer bonds and other system-wide costs, and the rate entities such as Culver Academies are charged for the actual gallons of sewage flowing into the town's system.

"I don’t' want to hear that the Academy is getting a special base rate just because they're the Academy," said audience member Russ Mason.

Schoeff responded that a special rate hasn't been part of the discussion. Instead, he said, there has been some discussion of the Academies might choose to pay off the town's $2 million sewer debt. Since debt service amounts to around 80 percent of all customers' base sewer rate, the payoff would result in lowered base rates for all customers, including the Academies.

"(That would) save them money over the course of 50 years, but it's got to be (what's best) for everybody," said Schoeff.

Other discussion included an update from Paul Foster of DLZ Engineers, who updated the council on the ongoing downtown revitalization project in Culver. Contracting company Reith Reilly, he said, expects to be done with concrete and sidewalk work by Dec. 1, and demolition is nearly complete on the west side of the street.

The council signed a voluntary mutual aid agreement as part of Indiana's emergency management District 2, something already signed by Marshall County.

Town attorney Jim Clevenger explained the agreement maps out a procedure designating responsibility of costs or liability incurred when outside agencies travel to another area to assist during an emergency.

"We've worked out a system to take care of each other," he said.

"Basically it says we'll be responsible for our people and equipment and (others will do same)."

The council also voted to put out Culver's town-wide trash service for bid after a proposal from Allied Waste, which currently handles the town's pickup, for a three-year contract starting in January, 2013.

The proposal would extend the existing three-year contract but with a five percent flat increase from the current monthly rate per resident of $14.09 to $14.79. A two year extension would require a six percent increase to $14.93.

Schoeff, noting Culver has approximately 730 residences serviced by the agreement, said Allied's proposal also calls for language allowing the company to approach the town for an increase in billing, should fuel costs rise dramatically during the contract period. Council member Lynn Overmyer moved the matter be opened for all bidders to enable council to look at various options.

The council scheduled a public hearing for its next meeting in relation to required identification of all intersections in town and whether they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the need to have a plan to implement ramps at those intersections.

Town marshal Wayne Bean told council he is hiring a new part-time office, Chad Dulin of Knox, who he said will be "a good addition."

A work session was scheduled for 30 minutes before the next council meeting to discuss resolution on the matter of longevity pay for town employees, after town clerk Karen Heim asked for clarification on whether part time employees may receive it and under what circumstances.

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