Sewer districts deserve attention from Indiana General Assembly

(Portland) Commercial Review

If the Indiana General Assembly is serious about tackling an issue that really matters, instead of political posturing and introducing measures designed to satisfy campaign donors, here’s a topic worth consideration: Indiana’s regional sewer districts.

Sure, it doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunities for political posturing and chances are none of their campaign donors care about it, but it’s a problem in need of a statewide fix.

Regional sewer districts were established to address a pretty basic environmental issue.

When rural septic systems fail and the households involved are close enough to connect to a municipal wastewater treatment system, it makes sense to connect those in need with a system that provides a long-term solution.

So, environmentally, the districts make sense.

But after that, things start to fall apart under the guidelines established by the state.

For starters, there’s the question of fairness.

How do you share the costs of connecting rural households to municipal wastewater treatment systems without placing an unfair burden on those households? And how do you set things up so folks living in municipalities, who have been paying sewage bills forever, aren’t taken advantage of? Basic equity is a tough thing to arrive at.

Then there’s the question of governance.

The municipal wastewater treatment plant is part of city or town government.

Rural households — read that, voters — connected to that system have no voice in city or town government.

There’s a huge disconnect along the lines of “no taxation without representation.” It frustrates everyone involved, and it gets especially complicated when all the questions of cost-sharing equity are added in.

If all that seems to complicated, here’s a simpler version: Regional sewer districts can work effectively to resolve environmental issues, but as they are currently structured they cannot do that fairly and equitably in a way that gives everyone involved a voice in decisions.

One suggestion is simply to blow them up and start all over, and you can make a case for that. Maintain the focus on environmental solutions that protect Indiana rivers and streams, but come up with an entirely new way to share costs in a fair way and a governance system that empowers voters and property owners.

If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is.

But it’s exactly the sort of issue an engaged executive administration and a serious legislature ought to be willing to take on.

So far, however, no one has been willing to step up to the plate.

They’ve all been too busy posturing and doing the bidding of their donors to recognize real work when they see it.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.