City lowers sewer connect fee, discusses annexation

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It will likely soon cost considerably less money to hook into the city’s sewer service.

The Salem Plan Commission, which met Monday, Sept. 26, voted unanimously to reduce the sewer hookup fee from $2,000 to $800. Members also voted to changed the way new customers are charged for water hookups. Previously, if a hookup was requested for a property located across the street from the water line, the hookup was more costly. Following the Sept. 26 vote, all new water hookups will cost $700.

The commission began to review the hookup fees in July after commission member Trent Nichols said the steep cost could be discouraging development in the city. Building Commissioner Ronnie Voyles reported his office has fielded many complaints about the fee.

At the commission’s August meeting, Voyles provided members with a list of sewer and water hookup fees charged by several regional cities and towns. Most charged far less than the $2,000 Salem charges for sewer. Salem’s charge of $700 for water was more competitive when compared to the $1,170 Corydon charges for new water service but is still more than the $350 charged to Mitchell’s customers.

A final decision about reducing the sewer hookup fee was delayed after concerns were raised that the $2,000 fee might be used to pay bonds issued for sewer utility improvements. At the Sept. 26 meeting, it was determined the two are unrelated.

Prior to the vote, Justin Green, commission president, had suggested a 50 percent reduction in the sewer hookup fee. Nichols pushed to have it lowered even more.

“We want to promote ‘sticks and bricks,’ that’s all I hear,” Nichols said, adding that even a $1,000 hookup fee could send development outside the city’s limits.

Ryan Bower, the commission’s attorney, said it is easier to lower the fee than it would be to increase it should the commission later find it was lowered too much.

Different numbers were suggested by commission members before Mike Purlee made a motion to set the hookup fees at $800 for sewer and $700 for water. Nichols seconded the motion and it passed with unanimous support.

Nichols, who said he would have preferred to see the hookup fee lowered even more, described the new sewer hookup rate as being “more reasonable.”

The matter now goes before the Salem Common Council for final approval.

Also during the meeting, Purlee asked if the city should attempt to annex ground from Jim Day Road to the bypass. Green said it is a possibility and that Voyles planned to meet with Mayor Troy Merry to talk about it. Purlee said it would likely be easier to complete the process now rather than to wait for five years.

Voyles said the annexation would likely focus on the north side of the road. He added the city doesn’t attempt to annex farm ground nor do officials pursue annexation without support of the property owners being annexed.

The plan commission will meet next at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24.

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