The Washington Times-Herald

February 17, 2013

Levee can't stop financial drain

By Nate Smith
Washington Times-Herald

WASHINGTON — The business of the Bennington Levee is not going away at any time.  And like many maladies, it will get worse before it gets any better.

None more evident than on Wednesday, when Bennington Levee board member Tom Graham walked out of a Daviess County Council meeting after the council decided not to pay a $2,950 bill the board incurred while defending itself from a lawsuit the county made against it.

This is how messed up the whole situation is.

The county, through its commissioners, sued the levee board and three others for breaches to the levee in 2010. So, the levee has to defend itself but can’t because the levee board is broke.

State law dictates if the levee cannot pay its expenses, the state takes over. So the county has to pay for the defense of an entity it is suing. It’s almost like a public defender system for government.

That’s the mad part of it, but that’s the law. And it will probably get worse because this battle between the county and the levee board is far from over. There are settlement talks set for Wednesday, and the south breech is still not settled.

Also, just sent Friday, the commissioners and council have set a special joint executive session for 8 a.m. on Feb. 25. A public meeting will be held after. The purpose, according to the release, is to discuss litigation.

So, what can possibly happen is there will be a settlement on the south breach or there will be more litigation to get some sort of payment schedule from the levee board. I’m not a legal scholar, but I believe there will be more about the payment side.

County leaders very angry about the levee’s bills. They have paid almost $600,000 to repair the levee and they don’t know when those funds will, if ever, be paid back. Luckily, the money comes from riverboat gambling proceeds so no services will be affected, yet.

The commissioners have tried to get a timeline, most notably by threatening the levee board in January from paying some of its claims. Wednesday’s situation was coming to a head.

But the levee board does have the law on its side. They don’t have to assess landowners who live on the levee until all the bills are in. Also, there was talk at Wednesday’s levee board meeting about if the city of Washington also has to pay like other landowners since its water wells are protected by the levee.

So, in many ways, we all have to pay for this mess. But back to the legal bill. I understand both sides. The county must think it is galling to pay for the levee board’s legal defense. The levee board feels badly about it, but it was the county that sued them in the first place. Who knows who will pay the bill in the end.

In any way, it’s a government Catch-22 at work.


Nate Smith likes kids more than dogs. Follow him on Twitter @natesmithWTH