Governmental procedures can be confusing and cumbersome to those who are not familiar with their processes. In addition, working with a State agency might be intimidating or seem overwhelming to most people. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) understands that most everyone can use some assistance in navigating through administrative processes. The purpose of this guide is to provide information to Indiana's citizens about IDEM's process for forming a regional district, as well as provide technical information to those involved in forming a regional district, as well as those who will be impacted by the potential formation of a district. You have the right to understand what is going on in your neighborhood and your community. You also have a right to be involved in governmental processes, have points of contact for questions and concerns, as well as have access to resources. This guide features a section specifically for citizens, a section for governments, and a Frequently Asked Questions section for both. Citizens are welcome to read all sections of the guide and to have access to all references. The goal of this guide is to provide information, answer questions and provide resources to anyone who is interested in the regional district formation and implementation processes.
Clean water is a necessity for all aspects of life. Citizens of the United States are fortunate in that we typically have the infrastructure in place which allow us to access clean water, and have working sanitary sewers. In some areas of Indiana however they are failing or not functioning properly. Untreated sewage in a small area can affect the health of neighbors, farm animals, wildlife and the environment. Contamination can be costly for property owners to address on their own. In addition, when untreated sewage or failing drinking water systems are identified, property values decline while the costs of repairs rise.
In some instances, smaller communities and rural areas with wells and septic systems either may not have the ability to build the necessary infrastructure or they cannot afford the cost of providing services. Forming a regional water, solid waste or sewer district will address concerns regarding costs and availability of services for citizens and the community, while assigning management duties to the district. Once a district is formed, it will have the responsibility for providing oversight and management of drinking water, trash removal and sanitary sewer system infrastructure. In addition, districts are eligible for low interest rate loans and grants which may not be available to private utilities. This means that taxpayers can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of time. Regional water, solid waste and sewer districts are local forms of government established to address these specific concerns and manage the infrastructure of drinking water systems, sanitary sewer systems and solid waste (trash removal). Districts are established to ensure these services are available to citizens who do not have public systems, such as those with private wells and septic systems.
This guide explains the requirements for forming a regional district and provides information for taxpayers, county officials, board members and others who wish to address the issues regarding failing systems or the lack of needed infrastructure. Indiana code IC 13-26 regulates the formation and operation of regional districts.
Determining the Type of District Needed
There are various types of districts which may be formed, depending on the needs of the community. Some of these are governmental in nature and are formed by filing a petition or working through local Circuit Court. Some are private for-profit utilities, while others are public not-for-profit utilities. This information can be helpful when determining what type of district will meet the needs of the community in general. Please refer to the listing below for more information on the types of districts and authority associated with each type.
Types of Districts
Regional Sewer, Water, and Solid Waste (Trash) District (IC 13-26)
- Purpose is limited to sewage collection and treatment, water supply, and solid waste disposal (task is limited to the type of regional district chosen);
- Has the option to manage individual septic systems within the boundary (in addition to sewer system users) and charge a fee to maintain the septic system;
- Formed by IDEM;
- Petition submitted to the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management;
- Governed by a Board of Trustees;
- Generates revenue by rates and charges (e.g., user fee);
- Considered a municipal corporation;
- Does not have the power to require connection to a water system;
- Does not have to be land contiguous; and,
- Requires a public hearing and reasonable notification through local newspaper prior to formation of the district.
Private, For-profit Utility (IC 8-1-2)
- Most are not eligible for state and federal grants/loans, although some water districts may qualify.
Septic Maintenance District (IC 13-26, IC 36-11)
- Allows smaller communities to ensure that its wastewater is being effectively treated;
- Using this type of program, the entire community is registered and pays a fee for their septic tank to be serviced; and,
- Can be established by forming a regional sewer district through IDEM.
Conservancy District (IC 14-33)
- Purpose is any one or more of the following: flood prevention; drainage improvement; irrigation; water supply; sewage collection and treatment; establishment of forests, parks, and wildlife area; erosion control; storage of water for augmentation of stream flow; operation and maintenance and improvement of any existing work for water based recreation purposes;
- Formed by Circuit Court (51% of residents or owners of 2/3 assessed valuation can protest to court and conservancy district will not be granted);
- Petition submitted through Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR);
- Governed by an elected Board of Directors;
- Is a special taxing district;
- Generates revenue from taxes and assessments on property within the district;
- Can require hook-up of properties within three-hundred (300) feet of a sewer main; and,
- Has to be land-contiguous.
Public, Nonprofit Utility (IC 8-1-2)
- Formed by a Certificate of Territorial Authority (CTA) issued by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC);
- Regulated by IURC, but may opt out of jurisdiction;
- Even if utility opts out of IURC jurisdiction, it still must be audited by State Board of Accounts every two years and abide by IC 8 when raising rates; and,
- No power to impose a tax or assessment -- user rates and charges only.