By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald
WASHINGTON — The Daviess County Commissioners and Daviess-Martin REMC are at odds over utility relocations for the Odon-Cannelburg Road project.
Described at Monday’s county commissioner meeting, the utility is asking the commissioners to pay half of the utility’s bill of $135,345 for moving utility lines on CR 900E
The reason, according to engineer Dominic Romano, County Highway Supervisor Phil Cornelius and Commissioner Tony Wichman, was the utility did not agree with the project.
“They just said this project is not a benefit to them,” Romano said. “They said they did not request this project, so why should they have to spend their money. Of course this would have been avoided if they would have not placed their poles in (the county’s) right-of-way.”
Cornelius said if the utility had easements on its lines and poles, REMC would be eligible for reimbursement from state and federal funds. But some of the poles along the road do not have easements.
Total costs to move REMC’s lines is estimated at $171,758. The Indiana Department of Transportation ruled that because of the easement issue, only 21.2 percent, or $36,412, was eligible for reimbursement from state and federal funds. The county was asked to pay $7,282 of that cost due to the project agreement.
Romano, Cornelius and Wichman met with leaders of REMC last week to discuss the issue. It was at the meeting where the utility proposed splitting the remaining $135,345 to move the lines. They also requested the 50/50 split be for future utility movements along the road.
The county is not under any legal obligation to pay for moving the poles. Other utilities have paid for their own relocations or have easements to pay for the relocation.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Cornelius said. “We met with them in the beginning of 2011, at that time (REMC) said they had easements. If you have easements, that’s great. You will get full reimbursement in the federal process.”
County attorney Grant Swartzentruber said REMC’s argument was not solid legally.
“They are on poor footing,” Swartzentruber said.
Romano said INDOT wants to have this issue resolved before the state opens the contract for bidding in March. Otherwise, the project may put on hold.
Commissioners argued that since the other utilities on the road, including Daviess County Rural Water, RTC Communications, PSI and Smithville, have moved their lines without the county’s assistance because they were reimbursed or paid for the expense, they could not see helping REMC. They voted to pay the $7,282.
“My point is we need to stick to the (original) agreement and move on,” Wichman said.
Ken Frye, general manager for REMC, confirmed they believed they had the easements, but did not. He also said there was an issue on the costs to move the poles.
“Realistically, we have to look out for our whole membership so we will have to keep our costs down,” Frye said.
He said REMC will work with the county to resolve the issue.
“We are talking and do whatever it takes to get the solution to the problem. We serve three counties and it is imporant to work with the commissioners of all three counties,” Frye said.
Romano said for construction, their poles will have to be moved. Cornelius said if there is a delay in construction, REMC may be held liable for the delay.
“Unfortunately, I think we will have to get attorney Swartzentruber involved,” Romano said.
Weights and measures
The state Board of Health asked the commissioners in a letter to create a county inspector for weights and measures.
According to state law, if a county has more than 30,000 in population the county must create an inspector for weights and measures. The 2010 Census said the county has 31,978 residents.
In the past, the state has inspected all local scales and gas pumps. Commissioners asked Swartzentruber to look into what is needed before officially creating the position.
Daviess County Assessor Dennis Eaton told the commissioners the state is changing the timeline for reassessments.
Instead of the entire county being reassessed for property taxes in 18 months every few years, Eaton said 25 percent of the county will be reinspected every year for four years. After the four years, new cost tables will then be made.
Eaton said trending for properties will continue on a yearly basis.
City and county officials met with representatives of CSX Transportation about a new overhead bridge on N.E. 15th Street. Swartzentruber said the meeting was “not productive,” as CSX’s offer of $131,000 would not meet the cost of a new bridge.
The railroad has 30 days to come up with a new offer.