EATON — The Preble County Board of Commissioners did not sign a consent order to acknowledge findings from the county’s lawsuit with the EPA regarding Sewer District 6 (SD6) during their regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
Commissioner Rodney Creech began the discussion by stating that the commissioners would cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars if it is not signed, but that he cannot sign due to a conflict of interest regarding land that he owns within the footprint of SD6.
“We cannot win this, and we know it’s going to end up, we’re gonna have to hire outside legal counsel, along with possibly some penalties and fines,” he said. “If I was able to sign it I would, but I’m not able to sign it due to conflict of interest.”
Commissioner Chris Day agreed with Commissioner Creech, saying that the county does not have an option to not sign, otherwise it will cost the county money.
“We hired a second outside counsel for a second opinion, and the same advice as our prosecutor gave us is to sign this,” Commissioner Day said. “I believe that we need to sign this to be a good stewardess for the county and save taxpayer dollars because it’s gonna cost a lot of dollars in legal fees and we’re gonna end up with the same result.”
He indicated that the commissioners’ fight is not now with the EPA, but when they have to figure out how to fund it.
Commissioner Denise Robertson then reiterated that she has been a ‘no’ on this from the beginning.
“So, if you think that I’m against it because I don’t want to save money because this cost of county taxpayers money for just that area…I think that I’m standing for the other unincorporated areas,” she said. “West Nora, Fairhaven, New Hope, Morning Sun, New Westville, Greenbush, all of these little areas that have the same situation will be their next target. I’m tired of the overreach in the state government.”
She added that the commissioners would sign a document that says, no matter what, that they are paying for it when they don’t even know what the cost will be.
“So we still need a plan, even if we decide to go that way, which that would be the next board to decide, I guess, but even if we decide to go that way, it’s going to be years before it’s taken care of,” she said. “We’re still going to need an interim plan.”
Commissioner Creech then said that signing this order does not mean that she would be for SD6.
“We’re signing this because we’re in a lawsuit with the EPA,” he said. “Denise, I agree with everything you said, but what you just said doesn’t matter because we’re in a lawsuit with the EPA. I’m for property owner rights just as much as anyone, but this isn’t going to stop the train.”
Commissioner Robertson then asked Commissioner Creech to stop pressuring her into signing something that would “potentially benefit [Creech].”
“I’m not trying to convince you,” Commissioner Creech said. “I’m trying to let the people of Preble County know in a couple years that we paid a couple hundred thousand dollars in legal fees, I just want them to know why.”
“You know, you guys have given away the dispatch merger,” Commissioner Robertson responded. “They should have been paying money for that all along, and you were fine with that. So, I feel like I’m protecting the rest of the county.”
Commissioner Creech then said she is comparing apples to oranges.
Commissioner Day then stepped in to clarify that the commissioners previously had no options due to the battle with the EPA.
“We don’t know the full cost,” Commissioner Robertson responded. “I don’t even think in good conscience I could sign it today. I don’t know how much it’s gonna cost. I’m signing a document that says it doesn’t matter, we’re going to do it, and that’s ridiculous. I’m not doing it.”
After some further discussion about the affordability of sewer bills, Commissioner Robertson said that they should use West Elkton as an argument in court to say that the increased bills can’t be afforded.
“We don’t know how much it’s gonna cost. This could be our fight,” she said. “We could end up in court and we can tell them we can’t afford this.”
Commissioner Day then added that he was frustrated that the county is continuing to spend money and this, and that the commissioners have tried to be cost effective.
“Trust me, I don’t like the money that was spent on this,” he said. “I don’t like where we’re hanging on this, but to go against two legal opinions that we should move forward with this is just ridiculous.”
“Okay, so I’m ridiculous?” Commissioner Robertson asked. “You know what? This discussion has not changed from the very beginning. This is not right to do to the property owners. Property owners should be held accountable for their own properties to make sure they’re not polluting.”
Commissioner Creech said that the initial EPA findings were signed because the county was being threatened with a $10,000 per day fine that would have been enforced.
“That’s not why I signed them,” Commissioner Robertson said. “I signed them so we can probably fix the problem without causing any kind of problem, any legal issues.”
After the lengthy discussion, the motion to sign the consent order failed as the vote split with Commissioner Day voting yes, Commissioner Robertson voting no and Commissioner Creech abstaining from the vote.
In other business:
Also during this meeting, the commissioners authorized a payment of $1,542.75 to the landfill and noted receipt of an executed land contract agreement with Leis Realty Company for $95,000 regarding SD6.
The Preble County Board of Commissioners meet every Monday and Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the Preble County Courthouse. These meetings are open to the public.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles