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Frequently asked questions and answers regarding your billing from the Ben Davis Conservancy District (BDCD)

Question 1:  What is Ben Davis Conservancy District (BDCD)?

Answer 1:  BDCD is a conservancy district organized under Title 14 of the Indiana Code with the sole purpose of providing sanitary sewer treatment to the freeholders in the District’s service area.  As a conservancy district BDCD is a separate unit of local government responsible entirely for the payment of expenses to provide sanitary sewer service in its service area and for the collection of revenues sufficient to pay those expenses.

Question 2:  Is the BDCD charge on my property tax bill a tax?

Answer 2: The line item labeled “Conservancy” on your property tax bill is a special benefits assessment.  BDCD is a conservancy district.  Conservancy districts have the ability to have a special benefits assessment placed on the property tax bill.  This assessment plus any miscellaneous revenues BDCD collects, pays for the entire costs of providing sanitary sewer service to the freeholders in the BDCD service territory. This assessment only applies to properties in the 930 Taxing District.

Question 3:  Why am I getting two types of bills from BDCD?  I am getting a monthly bill and a bill on my semi-annual property tax bills.

Answer 3:  Prior to 2018 BDCD collected its entire annual budget from the special benefit assessment on your property tax bill.  In 2018 BDCD started billing a monthly user fee of $8.00 to its freeholders in addition to the semi-annual special benefits assessment placed on your tax bill.  In 2019 this monthly fee increased to $16.00 and in future years this monthly fee is expected to continue to increase.  In both 2018 and 2019 the special benefit assessment rate decreased in response to the increase in revenue collected from the monthly fee.

Question 4:  Why haven’t my taxes gone down following the billing of the monthly user fee?

Answer 4: “The taxes have not gone down in some cases because the Marion County Assessor may have increased the assessed value of your property.  This will increase the amount of taxes that are collected even if the conservancy tax rate decreased.  A referendum to increase taxes to provide additional funding to the Indianapolis Public School (IPS) system recently passed which increased the taxes collected for properties in the IPS district.  In addition, there is an upcoming referendum in Wayne Township for additional tax revenues for the school district.  If this passes in May, it will affect the property taxes for all properties in the Township, including those within the Conservancy District.  The Conservancy has no control over school referendums or value assessments. ”

Question 5:  If BDCD is billing me a monthly fee and collecting the special benefits assessment from my property tax bill isn’t that double collecting?

Answer 5:  Each year BDCD must submit its annual budget to the State for approval of its special benefits assessment rate.  That budget process requires that the revenues collected from the monthly user fee be subtracted from the budget amount to be collected from the special benefits assessment.  This means that it takes both the money collected from the monthly user fee and the money collected from the special benefit assessment to fund the BDCD’s annual budget each year.  Since the user fee billings are subtracted from the amount to be collected from the special benefits assessment, BDCD is not double collecting.

Question 6:  Why are my bills from BDCD going up each year?

Answer 6: BDCD has a sewer collection system but does not have a sewage treatment plant.  BDCD collects the sewage from the freeholders in its service area and pumps this sewage to Citizens for treatment.  Citizens bills BDCD for this service.  In 2018 BDCD paid Citizens $365,250 for sewage treatment. Citizens is raising its treatment charges to Citizens each year through 2025.  In 2025 it is projected that the cost for treatment from Citizens will be over $2,700,000.  The only source of revenue BDCD has to pay its bills is its billings to the freeholders in the BDCD service territory.  BDCD has to continue to raise its fees and charges each year in order to pay the increasing costs of sewage treatment from Citizens.

Question 7:  Will my bills from BDCD continue to go up each year forever?

Answer 7:  BDCD has hired attorney, engineers and accountants to explore ways to lessen these annual increases and maybe even halt them. Unfortunately, these alternatives are complex and time-consuming to implement.  However, the BDCD Board of Directors is committed to doing everything in its power to provide sanitary sewer treatment to its freeholders at the lowest possible cost. The BDCD puts notices on its monthly bills, post information on its website and holds periodic public hearings to keep its freeholders informed of its progress in exploring these alternatives.

Question 8:  Who regulates BDCD?

Answer 8:  BDCD is regulated by both the Marion County Circuit Court and the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.  Public notices of scheduled court hearings; requested budgets and monthly fee increases are all advertised for public participation and comment.

Question 9: Why are sewer bills skyrocketing all over Marion County?

Answer 9:  The City sold its sewage system to Citizens because the City was under a consent decree to clean up the White River. The city has an antiquated combined sanitary and storm sewer in much of the county which dumps raw sewage into the White River every time it rains. A project is now under way which will require millions if not billions of dollars of sewer user fees to create a system of underground tunnels to store the water during high rains and treat it later. This is a huge engineering project. The politicians did not want to face irate taxpayers over sewage bills that may be in excess of $100.00 per month for the average homeowner in a very few years.    The Conservancy does not have these problems, and the Directors are seriously considering the construction of our own sewage treatment facility so that we will not be subject to increasing sewage treatment costs from Citizens.  The Circuit Court has recently approved such a project subject to the considerations and advice of the freeholders of the district and the assurance that a permit will be issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Q. Why is the Conservancy able to offer most of its residents sanitary sewer service at a much lower cost than other municipalities?

A. Our Bonds are paid and we are debt free. We have a modest facility (see picture) and have no plans to build a fancy new headquarters or incur any major purchases. The directors have been sensitive to tax increases historically and since our system is paid for, the high cost of expanding service to new areas, digging around skyscrapers, and payments for principal and interest for municipal bonds is avoided. Additionally, the use of a property tax is simple and a bureaucratic system of checking water bills, sending statements, collecting sewer bills, with a collection cost, attorney fees, ect. is entirely avoided in the Conservancy.

Q. Are the sanitary sewers of the Conservancy in reasonably good shape?

A. Yes. While our sewer lines are over 50 years old, new technologies ( such as televising and videotaping sewer lines and the lining of sewer lines with new materials) have shown that we can quickly detect problems with sewer lines and remedy the problem with newer and better materials. The new technology which allows us to get inside the lines and virtually see the problem has shown that our sewer lines are in good shape and can be reasonably maintained with just a modest annual maintenance.

Q. Would some of the residents be better off if the Conservancy was dissolved and if Citizens Energy Group took over the functions of the Conservancy?

A. A few. About 12% of the freeholders in the Conservancy would benefit with the implementation of a user fee based upon average water consumption. 88% of the residents however, would have to pay higher bills and would thus be hurt financially if the City took over the functions of the Conservancy. Unfortunately, it is the little quy who owns the more modest home and who is typically hard-pressed for cash who would hurt the most.

Q. How can I determine if I benefit from the Ben Davis Conservancy?

A. If your home or parcel of real estate has an assessed value ( not fair market value ) of approximately $68,000 or above and your are an “average” water user, you would pay a lower cost for sanitary sewage, if you were in the Citizens Energy Group  sanitary district according to the lastest study. “Assessed value” is typically less than what your home would be worth if sold for its fair market value. While it is difficult to equate fair market value with assessed value, we feel that the “break even point” is approximately $ 165,000.00 of fair market value. If the fair market value of your home is $ 165,000.00 or less, you probably benefit by being in the Conservancy. This study, however, did not take into account the fact that property taxes are deductible for state and local income taxation while user fees are not. Therefore, each homeowner would have to do a careful analysis of his or her own situation to determine the benefit of the Conservancy.

Q. Does Citizens Energy Group want to take over the Conservancy?
A. There is nothing that indicates that the Citizens Energy Group t has any interest in any takeover. The relationship between Citizens Energy Group and the Conservancy has usually been one of mutual respect and cooperation. The impetus to take over the Conservancy appears to be initiated by a few taxpayers who realize that government can be manipulated to benefit a few to the detriment of the vast majority.

Public Service Announcement — January 17, 2019

The directors of the Ben Davis Conservancy announced this week that they have filed a petition with the Marion County Circuit Court for permission to take preliminary steps to seek financing for a Sewage Treatment Facility. The project is still under consideration and is contingent upon favorable results of an engineering study and a study by the district’s financial advisor where comparative costs and user fee rates can be compared with sewer user fees likely to be charged by CWA Authority if a treatment facility is not constructed.   If tentatively approved by the Circuit Court, the Directors will hold a public hearing in the district to solicit comments, advice, and information from the freeholders in the Conservancy . After this public hearing of the freeholders, which probably will be held  in May 2019 , a decision will be made as to whether or not to construct a sewage treatment facility.  The treatment facility, if constructed , would cost approximately $15,000,000 and would be financed by revenue bonds at market rates from user fees now being collected by the Conservancy..  The Circuit Court hearing is a public hearing wherein comments and evidence deemed relevant is solicited by the Conservancy from the general public and the public is invited to attend.  This hearing will be held on March 15, 2019 at 9:30 .a.m.  in the Marion County Circuit Court in the City-County Building.

Circuit Court Minute Sheet – Approving Treatment Plant

Explanation as to why the increase in User Fees

  1. For years the Conservancy Residents got a great deal and paid much less than the residents of the old Indianapolis Sanitary System.  Almost 97% of the residents paid less for sewer service than everyone else in the County.
  1. The City of Indianapolis sold its sewer system to CWA Water Authority, Inc. and they were ordered by the IURC to renegotiate all contracts with Ben Davis, Greenwood, Lawrence and other satellite systems.  As all sewer charges will dramatically increase due to the mandate to clean up the White River by the Environmental Protection Agency and the IURC did not feel that Ben Davis should be unaffected by the increase in sewage processing fees that everyone in Marion Count and its environs witll face.
  1. The Conservancy intervened in the rate case and after months of negotiation, the case was settled and the conservancy and the other litigants are required to gradually increase the costs to CWA for sewage processing with the largest increase per gallon incurring in 2019. (This is why the property tax rate for 2019 could not be lowered
  1. The Conservancy has three options:  1.  Dissolve and be thrown into the CWA district; 2. Build a treatment plant ; or 3.  Stay with CWA for a time and try to collect the sewer processing charges so that building a treatment plant is an option.  The best alternative is not clear, but if we can collect 90% of our sewer processing fees for a few years and if the estimated benefit to the freeholders is determined by our financial expert to be substantial, the board is inclined to ask for authority to build a treatment plant.  This however cannot be determined until such time as our collections are at 90% for a period of at least two years.