City works to correct wastewater billing woes

(photo supplied / Times-Union)

Software errors created some wastewater utility billing problems the city of Warsaw is working to address.

At the Board of Public Works and Safety meeting Friday, Mayor Joe Thallemer said, “During the last billing cycle for the wastewater utility, we sent some bills, some letters out to some of the customers informing them that the department was backbilling them for the errors that were created by our software vendor back in 2018. And I just want those to know who received those letters that a year ago this board voted to not create that backbilling and for the need for that. And we stand by that decision.”

But, he said, the city has been made aware of “certain potential bond, legal things that we have to look at and to maybe put an exclamation point on that decision that we made. We may end up taking that to the council.”

Thallemer said he wanted to make the people who called about the billing aware “that we are going to stand by what we had voted on a year ago, and that was that we would not expect those underbills to be repaid.”

Now that the issue is looking a bit more complicated as it moves forward, he said it’s a real possibility that it may have to be taken to the city council.

Board members George Clemens and Jeff Grose, city councilman, did not comment on the issue.

The board then opened bids for 2021 Warsaw Police Department fuel pricing and for an intermediate grinder pump system for the Technology Park lift station.

The sole bidder for the WPD 2021 fuel pricing was Lassus, the department’s current fuel provider. Its bid was for 78,000 gallons of fuel at $2.03 per gallon.

This year, the WPD is paying $1.92 per gallon and the 2020 price is $2.07.

After consulting with City Engineer James Emans during the board meeting, Chief of Police Scott Whitaker recommended the board approve the bid, which it did.

Two bids were opened for the pump system. Those were from HRP Construction Inc., with a base bid of $132,750.01; and from G & G Hauling & Excavating Inc., with a base bid of $116,288. Utility Superintendent Brian Davison took the bids under advisement and will make a recommendation at the board’s Oct. 18 meeting.

Whitaker later asked the board to approve for the WPD to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the prosecutor’s office, Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office and Winona Lake Police Department, in conjunction with the Indiana State Police. The MOU is for WPD to commit officers full time to participate in the countywide unified drug task force known as NET 43. It allows for each participating agency to act as an independent contractor and not as an employee of NET 43.

Whitaker said NET 43 has been in effect for about six months. The MOU officially establishes the NET 43 governing body, an equitable sharing formula, the purpose of the unit, that officers involved in the unit are independent contractors and that the city officers involved in the unit are still city employees, he said.

The MOU was created in partnership with the prosecutor’s office, Whitaker said.

Thallemer asked if the MOU specifies the number of participants the city was committing to NET 43. Whitaker said it does not, and it was solely the city of Warsaw’s decision on how many officers it commits. At this time, WPD has two officers assigned to the unit.

“I think it’s only reasonable that we would look to increase our staff members in the future, as I believe the sheriff’s department is looking to. It’s all just a matter at this point of filling spaces and manpower,” Whitaker said.

He said NET 43 is making an impact in the community, and cited a Thursday night drug bust in Warsaw, with various types of drugs and a firearm taken, as an example.

Whitaker said the MOU outlines the goals and objectives of NET 43. “The primary purpose of this unit is to effectively target and disrupt the illegal distribution of narcotics in our community. And we all know that we have the same problems that most communities around this country (have). Hopefully, this unit will make an impact, and we’re seeing some positive returns,” he said.

Communication is key to NET 43, and the governing body probably will meet quarterly, he said.

Grose had some concerns about potential disciplinary actions and who would handle those if the need should arise. Whitaker said, “The way that we set this up is that since we are the employer, we would be handling any and all potential disciplinary actions through each individual department.”

City attorney Scott Reust said County Prosecutor Dan Hampton and Whitaker sent him a copy of the MOU a while back. While Whitaker is waiting on the Standard Operating Procedures from NET 43, Reust said, “The combined agencies are pretty happy with who’s unit commander right now. He’s got a lot of experience.”

The Board of Works approved the MOU.