There are a number of professionals who may be needed to provide assistance with district formation. These are: engineers, certified public accountants (CPAs), attorneys, bond attorneys, and operators.
For all public funding sources (including Rural Development (RD), State Revolving Fund (SRF), and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), the community may need the services of the following consultants:
- Professional engineer: Converts the recommendations of the Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) into a design, with plans and specifications to be submitted to the relevant permitting agencies for approval; prepares bid information, reviews bids for accuracy and responsiveness; assists with easement documentation.
- Rate consultant: Uses project cost estimates from the PER and available funding sources to develop monthly user fee estimates; completes all necessary financial reports; helps develop rate and other ordinances as necessary. (NOTE: Rural Development does not require the use of a rate consultant; however, a financial advisor is recommended. Check with your RD field agent for more information.)
- Bond Council: Performs all steps necessary to issue bonds, usually through SRF or RD, to cover the costs of the project. (Bond council is generally required by funding sources.)
- Attorney: assists with easements, property acquisition, and other legal needs.
- Certified grant administrator (Office of Community and Rural Affairs only): OCRA requires that their grants be administered by a certified grant administrator. This includes writing the grant and ensuring that the project meets all federal requirements (labor, civil rights, environmental, land acquisition, etc.).
All consultants whose costs will be paid out of OCRA money will need to be procured according to OCRA requirements (including legal advertisement, certified mailings, and scoring by a selection committee designated by the applicant). Grant administrators must be paid using OCRA funding, so they must be properly procured as well. Rate consultants and bond council are needed to close loans from the State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Please note that some financing institutions will not cover work performed before the district has been formed. Action made after that point may be covered by loan financing.
The process for hiring engineers is called the QBS or Qualifications Based Selection. The guide is entitled QBS User's Guide: The Process for Selection of Professional Services. The guide includes sample requests for proposals and qualifications.
Generally, the district will provide engineering firms with a detailed scope of services and then request qualifications. After reviewing these initial qualification packages, the district may elect to develop a short list of engineers to be interviewed and evaluated in person. All applicants must be notified of the results. The selected engineer is then asked for a proposal to help define contract terms, fees, and other details.
When setting criteria for using in hiring an engineer, the statement of qualifications evaluation form [PDF] may be helpful.
Below are some points to keep in mind when working with an engineer:
- Provide local information. As a community expert, you may have some of your own ideas about what options may be best for your community. You may know that Mrs. Smith on Main Street is willing to sell some land to site a treatment system, or that it might be best to run pipes along the old railroad track. The engineer won't know about these options unless you mention them.
- In some cases, state regulations may dictate what you must do, but work with the engineer to see if the plan could be improved and understand why those choices were made.
- Ask questions. Since you will be working with the system that was built, it is very important that you have a comfort level and are knowledgeable when discussing it.
- Talk to other communities about their experiences. What problems have they had with their systems? What do they think is important when selecting an engineer?
- Educate yourself about the project.
- Look at the engineer's experience and qualifications.
- Make sure the contract stipulates what funding source you'll be working with. If you're not sure what your complete funding package will be, engineering studies should generally be written to meet State Revolving Fund standards, which are the most stringent. However, the engineer should be willing to coordinate with all relevant fund providers.
- Coordinate your consultants. Make sure engineers are aware of rate consultants, grant administrators, or other individuals with which they may need to coordinate.
- Set a budget. Decide how much money your community can afford to spend, and negotiate the scope of work with the engineer. Engineers acknowledge that the amount charged for planning studies varies widely due to a varied scope of work.
- Make sure the budget includes all necessary items. Understand whether the engineer will complete an Environmental Review, and whether the fee will include an Archaeological Survey (if required). Be clear on the engineer's involvement in the user rate determination, for example when the rate consultant will be brought on board to work with the district.
- Some funding sources have very specific billing requirements. Make sure the engineer is aware of and agrees to follow these requirements.
The Rate Consultant Hiring Process: Tips and an Example Job Description
Rate Consultants can provide the cost of their services. It is important in the job description [PDF] to include a scope of services. These are services the consultant will provide regardless of how long your start-up process takes.
You can contact an association or another district to verify if the amount you are paying is reasonable. Examples of associations which help RSDs and RWDs are the Indiana Regional Sewer District Association, Rural Community Assistance Program and the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water.
After advertising and receiving proposals, your hiring committee or board can use the statement of qualifications evaluation sheet [PDF] to rate the various applicants in order to choose the best one. This scoring sheet can also be used to establish criteria to include in the job description.
How to Find an Accountant
When hiring someone to construct rates it is important to consider the need for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). A CPA must follow a professional code of ethics and must meet specific standards for experience and education.
This professional should be familiar with the State Board of Accounts (SBOA) manuals related to your district.
Seek recommendations from the County Council, Town Council, or Chamber of Commerce. Another good source for referrals is local Regional Sewer Districts and Regional Water Districts. More contact information for the Indiana CPA Society can be found in the association list.
Important things to remember when working with a CPA or Accountant
- It is important that the district board understands the accounting and financial management plan created under the accountant's advice and guidance. The Board is accountable and may have legal liabilities, so it is important to have a complete understanding of the financial plan.
- A CPA or accountant will set your rates and develop your rate ordinance. A district may also hire a CPA or accountant to maintain records. The board may choose to have the district's treasurer account for the board's transactions and budget.
- The accountant should prepare financial statements which the board should approve.
- The accountant can play a role in helping your district plan fiscally to ensure that loans are paid back, bonds are issued in proper amounts, and the system is financially feasible.
- The accountant can help in examining and assessing varying financial needs within the community.
- The accountant must be bonded and insured.
Suggestions for Working with an Attorney
- Determine the type of attorney you will need (many attorneys are specialized).
- Require or negotiate a fee schedule with the attorney.
- Remember to keep the attorney informed about what your district is doing.
- Respond promptly to your attorney's requests and try to be thorough when sending information.
- Drafts or reviews contracts, ordinances, agreements, employee contracts, and policy manuals.
- Advises the utility district with regard to the policy implications of proposed and existing rules and regulations.
- Explains legal information in such a way that the utility district can understand.
- Prepares proposals, aids in the negotiation of contracts, and assists in project planning.
- Prepares necessary easements.
- Prepares ordinances.
- Issues advisories and opinions.
- Interprets statutes and codes.
A bond attorney is needed on a revenue bond or other types of bonds. Bond attorneys can assemble materials and explain the districts ability to pay back the bonds. The lenders and the district have vested interests in having a bond counsel present. During the loan closing, counsel will explain the process as it proceeds and ensure it is done correctly. At the end they will be able to provide the district their opinion of the closing. Overall, counsel is also present for the lender to know that the bonds will be established correctly.
A revenue bond is a common type of bond, and is issued to fund public works projects, or utilities. It is supported by the money received from the rates collected. There are many other types of bonds.
Major lenders may have lists of "acceptable" bond counsel. The rate consultant who is hired may also be able to suggest potential bond counsel. U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD) is one major lender who has lists of bond counsel which the district may use. However, the district may also use another attorney if they meet the qualifications and requirements in order to serve in such a role. Another major lender, State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), does not have a list of counsel. Instead, SRF requires that your district have a nationally recognized bond counsel in order to close the loan. They will not provide a list of accepted or previously used counsel.
An example of materials which may be collected together by the bond counsel may include but is not limited to the following: ordinances, rate reports, letters required, letters of intent to meet conditions, the ability to build on private property granted by the counsel, other financial information about monies available so that projects may proceed, bond sales certificates, certificates related to bonds, taxes and certification and letters from counsel.
For tips on how to hire a bond counsel please see the section on Suggestions for working with an attorney. In addition, please be sure to verify with your lender that you need bond counsel. If you do not need one, you may want to talk with your current attorney and rate consultant to determine if it is necessary for you to have a bond counsel present.