Helmsburg sewer board votes for study, with conditions

The Helmsburg Regional Sewer District Board has agreed to apply for a grant to study its assets and options. Some of its customers are insisting that those options include possibly sending Helmsburg sewage to Bean Blossom.

The board had a special meeting Friday morning, July 5 just to deal with the application for a Regionalization Assistance Program grant through the state. The Brown County Regional Sewer District board, which is applying for this grant jointly with Helmsburg, had drafted Helmsburg’s application, said Helmsburg sewer board President Denise Broussard. This was an opportunity for the Helmsburg sewer board to make changes.

Broussard wanted information changed or added about Helmsburg’s current sewer plant, customer base and gallons allowed per customer at the base price; the partnership it just made with Gnaw Bone’s sewer board to share billing costs; what Helmsburg has been doing to position itself as a place for growth, such as starting a community development corporation and establishing an economic development area; and other points.

She also proposed rewriting the part of the application that mentions possibly sending sewage from Helmsburg to the proposed Bean Blossom treatment plant. Broussard said she wanted to take that part out.

“I want that removed for now. They don’t have a treatment plant and I don’t think it should be in there,” she said. “Right now it’s just to evaluate how our plant’s running and what can make it function better. Is it for them to start up a new plant and they have their own plant? I want this to focus on Helmsburg. How can we make Helmsburg better?”

Later, Broussard said that she wanted add the possibility that Bean Blossom sewage could be sent to the plant in Helmsburg. She said the Helmsburg plant could be expanded to accommodate it and the adjoining land owner would be OK with that.

The debated section about where sewage would go read: “This grant will pay for the cost of a technical and economical evaluation for regionalization opportunities in the watershed and for the greater Helmsburg area, including evaluating sending sanitary sewerage from the customers currently served by the Helmsburg Regional Sewer District to the proposed Bean Blossom Wastewater Plant.”

Broussard said she also wanted “an individual that is bipartisan for both groups” to conduct the sewer study.

In addition, she proposed that if Helmsburg, Bean Blossom or other areas did come together on one board, Helmsburg would have a controlling number of seats.

“Am I to interpret that to mean, then, that you’re not interested in joining with the BCRSD board, that we combine our board with them?” asked board member Jenny Austin. She was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, but was present through a video call.

“We are only here to do the application. We are not here to determine any of that,” Broussard answered.

Some Helmsburg customers also were concerned about the suggested rewrites. Property owner Erika Bryenton said that it could look like Helmsburg wasn’t willing to cooperate, and she worried that could hurt the chances of getting this grant.

There was also debate about how the grant money will be allocated if the application is approved. The last page of the draft application reads: “The RAP grant amount will be shared between the Brown County RSD and the Helmsburg RSD.”

“We’re doing our own application; they’re doing their own application. … We’re going to split that grant of $30,000 if we receive it, so 15 (thousand) is going to be for us. So we can do with that $15,000, if I understand and heard right, what we need to to better Helmsburg,” Broussard said.

Austin said she’d interpreted the conversation with the state officials differently.

Each district is to submit its own application for the grant-funded study, but one report will be completed, said Jim McGoff, COO of the Indiana Finance Authority, in response to an email from The Democrat seeking clarification.

“The state assistance will benefit both districts in that the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) will retain the services of one ‘independent’ engineering firm to study the needs identified by both districts, as set forth in the separate applications to be submitted to the IFA from each district,” he wrote. “The IFA will allocate a maximum of $30,000 for the preparation of a single report, which will be given to both districts upon its completion.”

Broussard said in the meeting that Helmsburg’s application needed to talk about Bean Blossom possibly sending its sewage to Helmsburg and that the BCRSD’s application should say the opposite.

“I’m not sure why we’re taking everything out that we’re trying to do,” said property owner Raymond Pitcher.

“Who on the board represents Helmsburg?” he asked. “Because it is not you. It is absolutely not you. You are not representing anybody in this room.”

Words were exchanged among other customers and board members before Broussard shut down the argument

Bryenton and property owner Brian Webb suggested that instead of taking the Helmsburg-to-Bean Blossom part out and putting in Broussard’s Bean Blossom-to-Helmsburg suggestion, the board add an “and/or” clause.

After some back-and-forth with members of the audience, Broussard said she was fine with that. “This is between me and (board member) Harrietta (Weddle), how this goes. I am only here to ask for input,” she said.

Broussard also said she had the needs of low-income people in mind and she didn’t want to see them forced into sewers if they couldn’t afford it. She said that happened to her when sewers were put in right after she’d bought her home in Helmsburg. “If the people in the Bean Blossom area can’t afford it and it’s going to make them homeless, I don’t want that to happen,” she said.

The BCRSD is the board responsible for expanding sewer service to areas of the county that don’t currently have them; the Helmsburg RSD is only responsible for serving its current district. The BCRSD intends to install sewers in the Bean Blossom area with or without Helmsburg joining forces.

The purpose of the sewer study grant is “to determine the most economical way to provide sanitary sewage service to populations in and around these areas (the Bean Blossom Creek watershed), now and in the future,” the application says.

Helmsburg’s monthly sewer rate recently went up to $92.50. Less than two years ago, it was $45 per month. The target rate for the Bean Blossom project is about $65 per month.

Austin told Broussard and Weddle she was “frustrated that you guys are taking this stance, because I don’t think that was the intent of the state when they asked us to sign this application. … It sounds like you’re wanting to do everything you can to prevent our working with Brown County RSD.

“You’re not going to pay any attention to what I say anyway, because you two vote together on everything, and I don’t agree like you’re representing the customers very well,” Austin added. She also expressed frustration over the board not scheduling a meeting when she had told them she was available. Broussard said that at the time, she didn’t think a meeting was needed.

The board voted 2-0 to send the changes Broussard had proposed to the SRF representative and get a hard copy in hand by the next regular meeting. Austin was not permitted to vote because she was not physically present. The actual motion, made by Weddle, was “to send the stupid thing to whoever these people are.”

“We need to get these things done,” Weddle said. “And we’ll put in Bean Blossom and Helmsburg (as treatment options),” she added.

Broussard said that if the grant does come through, both boards would get together and talk about the results of the studies and whether or not there’s a solution.

“We’re not deciding anything but sending an application in. We’re going to make another decision when they send it back. … It could change again,” she said.