A regional district is a local form of government created to deal with a specific problem regarding water, sewer or trash. There are different types of regional districts. Water, solid waste and sewer districts are formed to handle drinking water, solid waste (trash) and wastewater infrastructure needs.
How to Form a Sewer, Water, or Solid Waste District
The process to successful formation begins with ensuring that a regional district is the appropriate utility structure for your community. You can begin to collect materials and discuss the idea, using trade associations and other organizations as tools. Doing so requires much less time and can sometimes be more effective and cost-efficient.
Quick Reference Guide to District Formation:
- File a petition with IDEM. To form a district, the community must obtain signatures for the petition to incorporate from a political entity such as a township trustee and advisory board or county council.
- The petition must be authorized or approved by the governing body of the political entity, for example the county council of the county filing for the district.
- To accelerate the process, county officials should communicate regularly with the Indiana Regional Sewer District Association (IRSDA) prior to submitting your petition to the IDEM District Coordinator.
- Within the petition, designate one person as the authorized party to act as a contact person for the District Coordinator.
The Petition Basics
- The petition checklist and order of the sample petitions provided in this Guide should be followed to simplify the review process.
- The petition can vary in length, and needs to contain a description of district boundaries and a map.
- IDEM will contact the district board when it is time to hold the public hearing. IDEM will pay for a stenographer to transcribe the hearing. Notice will be sent two weeks prior to the hearing; the public comment period will close within two weeks after the hearing.
- Board members can be appointed by governmental entities or elected by eligible voters within the district boundaries. Boards should number 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, or 13 members.
- District expansion requires that a legal, eligible entity approach the board and ask to be included within the district's boundaries. With a majority vote of the board, the board can vote that the area be included within the district and inform IDEM to include the new area in their district. Eligible entities are defined by IC 13-11-2-62. If there is not a majority vote, the entity has sixty (60) days to ask IDEM to make the decision.
- Once the district had been formed, the district plan usually will be submitted to IDEM within nine months of formation. The deadline for submittal of the district plan will be included in the Recommended Order.
- Sewer districts can mandate hook-up within a certain distance of property lines, but the choice and determination of service availability is up to the board. Please see the three-hundred (300) foot rule (IC 13-26-5-2-8).
- A biennial audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts is required for districts once they are formed.
Note: It is important for property owners to know if they are a part of a regional water or sewer district. Please see the resources section of this guide and talk to other districts.
Tips for Boards, County Officials, etc.
Planning ahead is important for successful district formation. Contact one of the organizations listed in the Resources section of this Guide to determine if there is already a regional district in your county which could meet your needs (water, solid waste or sewers). This will also help to ensure that a regional district is the appropriate utility structure for your community. Contacting one of these organizations in advance can save time and prevent frustration with the process.
An income survey may be necessary to determine affordability within the service area and help determine eligibility. If your area is small enough, a door to door income survey may help garner support for district formation by giving individuals an opportunity to ask questions. Income is a sensitive topic for most people to discuss, and the personal contact may ease tension or allow the district to explain why data is needed. Utilize this time to make residents aware of the health benefits and increased property value a district may bring.
Utilize the services of associations such as the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water, the Indiana Rural Water Association (IRWA), and Rural Community Assistance Program (Indiana RCAP). Their services are free and they can help direct you through various aspects of the process.
Once it has been determined that formation of a district is desired, a governmental entity (such as a County Commissioner) must file the petition to form the district.
It is important to involve the community and to effectively communicate the reasons for the district formation. Here's how:
- Publish notices of meetings in local newspapers throughout the community to ensure property owners are notified. A list of names and addresses of affected property owners may be obtained through your County Assessor's office. Notify property owners of public meetings and hearings in order to fulfill the IDEM requirement that a reasonable effort has been made to contact property owners and residents.
- Have an engineer complete a preliminary engineering report (PER) to be presented at the initial public meeting. There should also be some cost and rate structures established within the framework of the PER. Costs and fees to property owners will be one of the first questions from the community, so be prepared to provide some information to address these concerns. Initial costs may be incurred for the preliminary engineering report and review by an attorney.
The engineer may provide some or all of these services; however you can also consult with the Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) for further information.
Funding sources are further detailed in the "Finding Resources" section of this guide.
Publicity and Educating New Residents: Making Yourself Known as a District
It is important to publicize the district's existence to new homeowners, developers, and other political entities. The district needs to outline its responsibilities and ensure others are aware of the district. For example, new homeowners must be aware of the district's presence so that they know about billing and do not install their own alternative system. Many different districts are using varied methods to educate new residents to the area.
Some basic ideas:
- Develop a good relationship with the local health department so that they will tell people about the district and not approve on-site systems.
- Have a relationship with nearby municipalities and their services, for example a nearby incorporated water or wastewater treatment company.
- Send a yearly or bi-yearly mailing such as a newsletter to inform customers of changes in service, remind them about the district, or serve as a consumer confidence report (CCR).
- Become affiliated with any type of local utility transfer service, local realtors, local contractors, or welcoming committee which might interact with new residents.
- Retain a relationship with the county or approved legal entity which helped you form.
- Word of mouth
New methods being utilized are:
- Using county records to update mailing lists.
- Flagging properties at the county level so that new home owners will know they are in the district.
Elkhart Regional Sewer District in Elkhart County is trying both new methods listed above. Elkhart also found it useful to stay in contact with everyone at the county level to be sure that they understood what was expected of the district and the county. This also helped them to remain in good contact and have good relations with the county.
To use the county records, Elkhart began to ask the County Auditor about how to get more up to date names and address. They gave the Auditor's office the boundaries of the district. The County Auditor processed the boundaries and sent them to the Information Technology/ Data Processing department. Using these boundaries, the county was able to help in supplying a freeholder list which could be used for mailing. This list was more up to date than that used earlier for assessing the district.
Elkhart also is putting a 'flag' onto every address within the district on the county's database. This means that whenever a realtor or anyone examines the addresses, they will see this unknown flag. The county office of the Recorder and Auditor are able to explain the flag. Each flag is numbered by which geographic area within the district that residence is located. For example, the first geographically connected area is number one and an additional area for a second build or system is number two.
To set-up the flags, Elkhart spoke with the office of the Recorder and Auditor. Discussing their need and the importance of their service with the county, Elkhart was able to sit down with the County Recorder and Auditor to find ideas that might work. The 'flag' concept worked within the county given their current database and set-up. A different idea may work for your district. Kris Krueger is the County Grant Administrator in Elkhart County and serves as the County Liaison to the district. She organized the flag and mailing list for the district with the county offices. She may be called with questions about Elkhart's process to set-up these new methods. Her phone number is (574) 535-6746.
What are the district's responsibilities?
The district may have any of the following responsibilities, according to the National Small Flow Clearinghouse:
- Construction and installation oversight;
- Routine inspection and maintenance of all systems;
- Management and regulation of septic handling and disposal;
- Local water quality monitoring;
- Administrative functions (e.g. bookkeeping, public education, billing);
- Authority to set rates, collect fees, levy taxes, acquire debt, issue bonds, make purchases;
- Authority to obtain easements for access to property, enforce regulations, require repairs; and,
- Record keeping and database maintenance.