Muncie Sanitary District sees significant change

Stormwater credits, new collection system, new leaders in store

By Rick Yencer

 MUNCIE, IN -  Sewage utility customers and property owners should see significant changes in the Muncie Sanitary District with businessman Bill Smith back in charge of the $30 million government operation.

 Smith, who had a hand in downtown development and the Delaware County Youth Opportunity Center, ran the district and implemented automated trash collection with Toter carts and recycling that reduced sanitation costs. And he kept an eye on the environment, making sure federal mandates for clean water were met.

 Mayor Dennis Tyler appointed Smith to clean up the district after the last city administration kicked him out and then got sideways with the federal government over maintaining the river levee and complying with clean water law. And public outrage came last year when the former sanitary board, run by Tom Bennington, imposed a 600 percent increase in storm water fees and hiked utility rates about 65 percent over five years.

 The final straw was a runaway collection system for delinquent sewer bills operated by former district attorney Pete Drumm that imposed hundreds of dollars in legal fees on past due bills that was upheld by local courts. Those small claims resulted in foreclosures and personal dilemmas for those in need, of age and disability while Drumm  made $1 million in fees. More than 7,000 claims were filed against residences, churches and businesses.

 Drumm was ousted by the sanitary board this week with a promise of a new collection system that might model past efforts to put liens on properties without excessive legal and court costs. And Smith promised to come up with a credit for residential storm water customers who got hit with that 600 percent increase.

 The sanitary board, that also includes engineer Mike Cline of Indianapolis, and local attorney Steve Murphy, decided to hire Mike Quirk to represent them. Quirk is local Democratic Party chairman and a public defender. The board also elected Smith as president.

 The new sanitary board also is changing some front office help including the district administrator. Barb Smith, a former treatment plant manager and current district administrator retired this week as well as other district officials like Steve Ballman, longtime sewer maintenance director. Sanitation superintendent Bobby Smith remains on medical leave.

 In the interim, Bill Smith will handle executive duties to decide whether other changes can be made to save money.