Chesterton Tribune



Utility Board urges customers in arrears to set up flexible payment plans

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The Chesterton Utility Service Board is urging customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and currently in arrears to contact the Utility Billing Office as soon as possible to set up a flexible payment plan.

Doing so will eventually become necessary, as the utility shut-off moratorium ordered by Gov. Eric Holcomb earlier this year expired on Friday, Aug. 14. and was not extended.

As members emphasized at their meeting Monday night, neither they nor the Utility has any interest in shutting off a customer’s water service. They also made clear their awareness of the other bills which folks impacted by the pandemic in all likelihood owe. “There are people in arrears on all their bills,” Member Scot McCord remarked. “There aren’t many people who are paying the rest of their bills but not their Utility bill.”

Members accordingly voted unanimously to adopt a “Flexible Payment Plan Policy”:

-- A customer must request an application for a flexible payment plan online at or by calling the Utility Billing Office at 926-1572. The Utility will respond to the customer, regarding approval status, within five business days after receiving a completed application.

-- The Utility will approve a payment plan only for those customers who have not defaulted on a similar agreement in the past 12 months.

-- The number of monthly payments can be from two to 12 months. Under an early draft of the policy, the term was between two and six months, but Schnadenberg, echoing McCord, insisted that customers have more time to pay, given the good chance that they’ll be making similar back payments to other creditors.

-- The minimum monthly payment will be calculated by dividing the approved balance by the number of payment months.

-- All current forms of payment offered by the Utility will be accepted.

-- If payment is not made, current penalty rates will apply, and current disconnection policy will apply.

-- Customers must pay all future bills as they become due in order to avoid any disconnection of service.

Schnadenberg was adamant that customers move quickly to take advantage of the flexible payment plan policy. “Customers should begin to think about setting up a payment plan,” he said. “These bills won’t be forgiven. They’ll still have to pay them, so it would be good to have a payment plan in place.”

At some point, those customers who have not arranged a payment plan, and have not begun paying down their outstanding balances, will have their water service disconnected. Ryan does not believe that actual disconnections will begin before Nov. 3, given the circumstances of the Utility’s shut-off partner, but they will be in the pipeline before that. To that end, members voted unanimously to extend the Utility’s shut-off moratorium to the date of their next meeting, Sept. 21, at which time they will re-evaluate the situation on the ground.

Ryan did tell the Service Board that last month the amount in back payments owed by customers was around $49,000. A month later, he estimated on Monday, that amount has risen to around $163,000.


In other business, members voted unanimously to authorize Ryan to begin the process of an automated clearing house (ACH) system for accepting payments from customers.

ACH would allow the Utility to automatically withdraw bimonthly rate payments from customers’ checking accounts.

Ryan told the Service Board that, nationwide, ACH payments grew by 6 percent between 2015 and 2018, while check payments fell a corresponding 7 percent during the same period. Ryan is guessing that a fair number of customers would take advantage of an ACH system, given that some 16 percent of all Chesterton Utility customers now pay their fees by credit card.

There is one particular advantage for customers, Ryan said: they would save nearly two and a half bucks per payment by using ACH. The transaction fee charged to customers for credit card payments is $2.41. The transaction fee for ACH payments: 10 cents.

Pioneer Point Lift Station.

Meanwhile, Ryan reported that the old Pioneer Point lift station continues to “have trouble” and that he and O’Dell have begun exploring the feasibility of eliminating that lift station altogether and installing instead a 12- to 15-inch gravity line from that point to the Kat lift station. To that end, the two have been shooting elevations.

It’s too soon to tell, however, whether a gravity line would be a more cost-effective option than simply replacing the Pioneer Point facility, Ryan said. “We’ll be running the numbers.”

Fleet Activity

Ryan also reported that the Utility has taken delivery of its new dump truck, purchased earlier this year for a net price, including trade-in of the old dump truck, of $121,717.

Ryan added that he expects to take delivery of a new backhoe today. Net price, including trade-in: $98,820, significantly less than the list price of $160,000.

July in Review

In July, Chesterton used 56.7 percent of its 3,668,000 gallon per day (gpd) allotment at the wastewater treatment plant; Porter, 44.63 percent of its 851,000 gpd allotment; the Indian Boundary Conservancy District, 51.27 percent of its 81,000 gpd allotment; and the plant as a whole, 54.37 percent of its capacity.

There were no overflows of wastewater into the Little Calumet River last month, which saw a total of 2.63 inches of rain.

Also in July, the Utility ran a surplus of $315,013.02 and in the year-to-date is running a surplus of $613,585.95.

Last Thoughts

McCord took a moment at the end of the meeting to urge folks to continue to be vigilant and mindful of their health, as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs at the moment of abating. “Please, everybody, stay safe out there,” he said.

Brandt, for his part, wished Town Manager Bernie Doyle a happy and well-deserved retirement--which Doyle announced at a Town Council meeting in July--but reminded him as well that his last day on the job, Dec. 31, is still months away and that there’s more good work for him to do in the meantime.

Stormwater Management Board

Earlier in the evening, at 6:30 p.m., the Stormwater Management Board held its regular monthly meeting.

Members made quick work of it, with little pressing business on the agenda.

Street Commissioner Schnaden-berg reported that the Street Department’s street sweepers are currently making a second complete pass through town, and that another crew has been busy repairing storm drains. “That’s been the big thing this summer, storm drains,” he said.

O’Dell reported that interest earned on the $500,000 which the Stormwater Utility deposited into the Trust Indiana Fund earlier this year totaled $105 over the two-month period June-July. “There’s more interest in that account than any other account right now,” he said.

In July, the Stormwater Utility ran a surplus of $2,882 and in the year-to-date is running a deficit of $25,989. O’Dell noted that many of the Stormwater Utility’s ratepayers are similarly in arrears and “that’s a significant amount of money.”


Posted 8/19/2020




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