By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald
WASHINGTON — The Daviess County Commissioners threatened to delay more than $200,000 in repair payments on the Bennington Levee on Monday.
The move was to force the Bennington Levee Board to come up with some timetable for repaying the county on the close to $600,000 it owes in the ongoing levee situation.
It was not until after assurances came from Bennington Levee Board Chairman Tom Graham they would have details on repayment soon, that commissioners voted to pay $227,499 for repairs to the south breach of the levee.
The county is currently suing the Bennington Levee Board, a construction company and three individuals for events that led to the March 2011 levee break. Under state law, the county is responsible for any bills the levee incurs that the levee board cannot pay.
Although Graham has said in past meetings the board plans to pay the county back, all three commissioners wanted a schedule.
ÒIÕd just like a timeline on when the county will be reimbursed,Ó Commissioner Mike Taylor said. ÒWeÕve spent $400,000 so far (before MondayÕs meeting.)
ÒSo far, weÕve paid, paid and paid and thereÕs no clarification on when we will be paid back.Ó
Currently, no taxpayer funds are being used to pay for the levee, only money from the countyÕs riverboat fund, money the state gives the county from gambling taxes. Auditor Gail Doades said the fund is low.
In its suit against the levee parties, the county asked a Dubois County judge to order the board to assess landowners near the levee so repayment can begin. A judge ruled Dec. 20 the levee board can set its own schedule for assessment.
Graham said assessment will begin once all the bills are in for repairs, as prescribed by state law.
ÒWeÕre going to follow the law,Ó Graham said. ÒThe intent will be when we get all our bills, we will make our assessments.Ó
Graham said the board has looked into a bond issue to pay the county quicker, but did not want to say a schedule for repayment will be ready by the commissionersÕ next meeting on Jan. 28 at first.
Meanwhile, commissioners said they have received complaints from constituents.
ÒItÕs been two years in another month or so, and the people of Daviess County need to know when it is going to end,Ó Commissioner Tony Wichman said.
ÒWell, when is your lawsuit going to end?Ó Graham answered.
Later in the meeting, Graham said he would do Òeverything in his power and controlÓ to get everyone on the levee board together and give the commissioners a timeline by Jan. 28 or when the county council next meets on Feb. 11.
The claim to repair the south breach was then approved, but a claim for $7,299 for legal fees incurred by the levee board was tabled.
County Highway Superintendent Phil Cornelius informed the commissioners of a utility reimbursement agreement with Daviess County Rural Water that was more than previous estimates for the Odon-Cannelburg Road project.
Cornelius said the county, due to an agreement with the Indiana Department of Transportation, could be looking at costs that are $200,000 more than originally thought. Most of those overruns would have to be paid by the county.
ÒIf everything comes in at the engineerÕs estimate, the county will be $100,000 in the red,Ó Cornelius said. ÒI donÕt think the bids will be at estimate.Ó
Future Road Closing
Mike Owens with Solar Sources presented the commissioners a preliminary request letter to close CR 350E from CR 200N to 350N, stopping short of the paved portion of CR 350N.
The closing would be for three years while the mine operates in the area. The county asked for a bond of $240,000 for the three years, equal to the bonds for closing roads for I-69 construction.
An agreement and closing order will come before the commissioners in future meetings.
Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit asked for, and received, permission to start a committee with the city of Washington to create a central dispatching center.
Harbstreit said there is interest with the city to create the center, which will handle dispatching for both city and county police and fire departments.
Commissioners directed Harbstreit to work with Mayor Joe Wellman to form the committee.