‘Moving really fast’: Helmsburg sewer officials seeking input ahead of grant application

The Helmsburg Regional Sewer District (HRSD) board is seeking input from potential customers before applying for an additional $700,000 in state funding.

The board is considering applying for a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help fund a sewer project which would cost $1 million or more, HRSD Vice President Kyle Myers said.

HRSD made a request to Brown County Commissioners earlier this year for a $175,000 match for the grant, which commissioners approved.

Myers said that the board is pursuing a collection expansion project for the district, along with making improvements to the existing plant.

A separate project between HRSD and Brown County Regional Sewer District includes the expansion of the HRSD and a collection system for the regional district. Construction for that could start in a few years, Myers said, and board members are in the process of getting estimates from contractors.

For now, they have to make sure the current HRSD plant stays operational.

If a grant is approved, funding agencies could potentially “buy down” current users’ rates, which Myers said will help with $92.50 monthly sewer bills customers now receive.

“That’s been (the board’s) main objective,” he said last week. “What can we do to get our rates down to something more manageable? We know it’s outrageous asking people to pay that much. At the same time it’s covering the bills. We can’t do anything (to change that) right now.”

Last December, the commissioners approved giving $25,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to HRSD. The money was used to purchase property to expand the sewer plant in Helmsburg, which was part of a three-phase project to expand service there.

HRSD now owns about three acres.

Following those approvals, HRSD’s remaining request was $450,000. Of that request, $75,000 would be used for a preliminary engineering report on how the plant in Helmsburg can be expanded in conjunction with what the regional sewer district is doing to take on additional wastewater from Bean Blossom and Lake Lemon areas.

Currently, HRSD has 62 customers on its system. The plant can take in 25,000 gallons of wastewater per day and is operating at 50% capacity, so there is potential to add 30 to 40 more customers before expansion is necessary, Myers said in April.

The OCRA application needs to be submitted to the county commissioners by the beginning of October. If approved, an engineering report would be due in November to get in line for the next round of funding.

“It’s all moving really fast,” Myers said.

Myers said the board is sending letters to homeowners in the area who might want the option of hooking onto sewer.

If funding is approved, it is possible hookups could be done without startup costs to new customers, only monthly payments, Myers said.

If residents decline sewer service but change their minds in five years, they could spend $6,000 to $10,000 to pay for the pump station and everything else needed to hook onto sewer, Myers said.

“If they think they might need it, (now is) probably the best time to jump on,” Myers said.

If residents don’t want it, Myers said the board is not in the business of trying to force anybody to hook onto sewer.

“We want to give them the option,” he said.

Board representatives may have to approach people who don’t want the hookup to request an easement for the neighbors who want it, he added.

At this point, the sewer board is trying to gauge the want or need for additional sewer service in Helmsburg.

A public meeting is scheduled for the end of this month, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Brown County Community Church pavilion.

“The plant’s aging,” Myers said. “There are things that need to be replaced and fixed to make sure we stay in compliance with our permit.

“We’re working with our operator on that to see what needs to be done, what needs fixed. We’re making sure he’s top priority on that.”

Funds would go for necessary improvements at the treatment plant in Helmsburg, including safety concerns listed in a Indiana Department of Environmental Management report.

If the board receives the grant, construction would start next spring or summer.

Myers is a septic installer, and said he is partial to people continuing to use their septic systems if the systems are in good working condition.

However, he said if someone is looking to expand their home by adding bedrooms or if they have a failing septic system, sewer might be a good option.

A new septic system can cost up to $20,000, depending on the number of bedrooms. A sewer hookup could be less than those costs, Myers said.