There are numerous distinctions between the regional sewer district and a conservancy district. Both are “creatures” of statutes. The regional sewer district statute is found at IC 13-26-2-1.
The Indiana Conservancy Act (IC 14-33) provides a mechanism by which landowners, through a circuit court process, can organize a special taxing district (a local unit of government) to solve specific local issues related to water resources management.
The following issues can be addressed through the Conservancy Act.
- Flood prevention and control.
- Improving drainage.
- Providing for irrigation.
- Providing water supply, including treatment and distribution, for domestic, industrial, and public use.
- Providing for the collection, treatment, and disposal of sewage and other liquid wastes.
- Developing forests, wildlife areas, parks, and recreational facilities where feasible in connection with beneficial water management.
- Preventing the loss of topsoil from injurious water erosion.
- Storage of water for augmentation of stream flow.
- Operation, maintenance, and improvement of any work of improvement for water based recreational purposes, or other work of improvement that could have been built for any other purpose authorized by the Act.
Often a local steering group first forms to research the issues and gather input from those who would be benefited/affected. To form a district, a petition is created and then circulated in the area to be included in and served by the proposed district. This petition is then filed in the circuit court of the county having the most land in the proposed district. The percentage of signatures on the petition is dependent on the number of freeholders owning land in the proposed district or proportion of all freeholders in the proposed district. A municipality may file a petition to initiate a proposed district by ordinance adopted by the legislative body.
Boundaries of a conservancy district are based upon the identification of properties expected to be benefited by the establishment of the district. Any area may be included in a district regardless of it political boundaries; however, the district needs to be contiguous with all other parts of the district and cannot overlap another district established for the same purpose.
“Regional districts” can be established by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management upon the filing of a petition for creation of the regional district by one or more “eligible entities” which would include a county, city and/or township government. A regional district can be created for matters related to sewage collection and treatment, water distribution and/or solid waste collection, treatment and disposal. The contents of the petition are controlled by the “eligible entity” filing the petition. The decision to create a regional district is vested with IDEM which retains oversight responsibility. The regional district statute contains a remonstration procedure and the entity filing the petition is required to comply with certain public meeting and notice requirements.
Once established by IDEM, the regional district is governed by a “Board of Trustees” which under the current version of the enabling statute can be “elected by the voters” or appointed by the elected executive or legislative officers of the eligible entity having territory in the regional district. There is no authority contained in the regional district enabling statute which would allow the district to impose a real estate property tax.
A regional sewer district is also eligible to seek and secure grants and/or loans for the cost of constructing the needed infrastructure. The Board of Trustees of the regional district is also empowered to adopt reasonable rules and regulations concerning utilization of the sewer system. There are multiple restrictions contained in the enabling legislation limiting the Board of Trustees implementation of the collection and treatment system.