Muncie Sanitary District sees change as mayor takes control
By Rick Yencer
MUNCIE, IN - Amid public outcry over skyrocketing sewer utility rates and runaway spending, the first member of the Muncie Board of Sanitary Commissioners has resigned as Mayor Dennis Tyler attempts to take control of the local tax district.
Teresa Ford, a human resources officer for First Merchants Bank, offered a resignation via e-mail this week, and no other explanation. She has served on the board since 2006 and was initially appointed by then Mayor Dan Canan. She was among the current board including attorney Steve Murphy and Tom Bennington, former Republican Party official and ex Anderson utility manager, who imposed a 600 percent hike in storm water property assessments and more than a 60 percent hike in sewage utility rates over the next three years.
Just last week, Ford along with Murphy and Bennington defiantly said they would not bow to the current mayor and resign from the board. And Bennington told taxpayers that he would not reconsider the rate and assessment hikes, saying state law allow him to raise rates up to five years at a time. The mayor appoints all members to the board
Tyler wanted their removal amid the rate hike controversy and some runaway spending including the purchase of new trucks and hiring more employees, besides imposing a $34 million bond debt on utility customers in the first of a handful of combined sewer overflow projects. That CSO work complies with federal clean water law that the district lagged behind during the last administration and now faces a court order to finish the job in 20 years.
Ford did not offer any other comment from her First Merchants office and it was clear that public outcry besides the district's spending practices caught up with the board. There also was no immediate word whether Merchants might try to buy the bonds on that CSO project.
A sanitary board members makes $15,800 and Tyler intends to name new city engineer Mike Cline of Indianapolis, to fill the vacancy. The mayor pointed out the sanitary board broke the law by not having the engineer serve on the board. And Cline, who consulted with the district over its sludge removal program 20 years ago, was sworn in Friday, promising to bring some oversight to sanitary board decisions.
There also been a delay to the district's mass filing of property liens against delinquent utility customers. The Delaware County clerk's office enforced a 25 day limit on filing cases after Peter Drumm, sanitary district attorney , tried to file dozens of cases every day. Drumm has personally made nearly $1 million according to district records on taking delinquent utility customers to court, running the collection agency out of his office.