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RFL sewer shutoffs, Solid Waste District report, Children Services levy issue among topics at commission meeting

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
Justin Mason of Environmental Engineering and Highland County commission president David Daniels look at a shutoff valve to be used for the Rocky Fork Lake sewer system. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton discussed sewer shutoffs at Rocky Fork Lake, heard Solid Waste District updates and revised previously approved tax levy legislation during two separate sessions Wednesday, Jan. 31.

On Wednesday morning, commissioners met with Steve Canter, Justin Mason and Aaron Moore of Environmental Engineering to discuss plans moving forward for installing shutoff valves in the Rocky Fork Lake sewer system.

A quote from Unger Construction, for $680 per unit, was approved at the Jan. 24 commission meeting.

“When we come up with someone who hasn't paid their bill and does not have a shutoff, that would be for us to go in and install a shutoff on their line,” Daniels said last month.

Canter explained Wednesday that this will be to shut off services at residences where there are “shared grinder pumps.

“When we have shared grinders, we can't just pull the pump and shut off service,” Canter said. “We have to actually tap into the gravity line from the structure before it gets to the tank to be able to terminate service for nonpayment. 

“The properties where, they're the only one on the tank, that's pretty easy to deal with. We just pulled the pump, so we won't need to install those on single grinders.”

Mason brought in a piece of the new equipment approved by commissioners last week to inspect. 

“We’ve found this device that we can install fairly close to the tank where the pump is, on the house side of the lateral,” Canter said. “With that, you just turn it with a valve wrench.”

Daniels asked if the county had “an easement on our equipment to go in and be able to make those repairs.”

“I don't believe we have a recorded easement, but there's the use ordinance that allows us,” Canter said.

Daniels then asked what the notification process for delinquent users should look like, prior to installing these new shutoff valves.

“Right now, what we're doing is we're giving people a notice when their service is about to be cut off, but this is somewhat different,” Daniels said. “This is going to add some considerable cost to us, discontinuing their service for lack of payment. We would need to inform them that we would be out there making these repairs that could disrupt the earth or the ground around our tank. 

“We would probably need to notify them by certified mail and make them aware that there would be cost associated with that disconnect, because of their nonpayment. Are there other things that we should be doing as we go down through and start to make a notification when we identify a property or property owner that hasn't paid?”

Canter suggested that “when we have the list that we’re prepared to install this thing,” crews could also provide in-person notification at the residences to let individuals know.

Regarding the aforementioned “additional costs,” Daniels said there would be “the cost we’re paying the contractor, the cost for this apparatus, a penalty and an inspection fee,” potentially.

“Is the county taking the cost of putting that in, or is the homeowner?” Roades asked.

“I guess you’ll bill them for it,” Canter said.

Daniels said that “as we move forward,” their new process can be “that we would try to make a verbal contact with them, send them a certified letter letting them know that we're going to be in there doing the work, that we're going to shut them off, that these will be the costs associated with that work and they can avoid those costs if they come in and become current on their monthly user fees.

“Our sewer regs may need to be amended to outline that process,” Daniels added. “We can work on that and get those ready to go, and we may end up having to amend our sewer use rules at some point here shortly to make sure that that's spelled out.”

Canter said their office has already begun working on updated rules. Mason said that Environmental Engineering is also “looking into some tags that would be like a vinyl material, weatherproof, and those can be put on disconnects or door hangers.

“That way, when we go out, if we do pull the pump, it's tagged that there's no pump in there, service has been disconnected,” Mason said. “We’ll have to figure out these if we're shutting off one service, and it's a shared unit, how best to tag those.” 

Canter also suggested that commissioners might select a backup contractor from the list of quotes they received, in the event “Unger can’t respond” to all of the residences once they are identified in case they “get inundated with them.”

Highland County Treasurer Vickie Warnock asked if commissioners were discussing having delinquent users “coming in and paying this up to prevent this, or are you talking in the future.” She said her office has a new list of individuals “added to the tax bills for delinquent” sewer payments, and she and her staff will need to know “that money needs to be applied to their sewer” and not to property taxes if residents come in to pay.

“If they do, we'll make sure that that connection happens between you and the billing,” Daniels said.

In an unrelated session Wednesday afternoon, Ross, Pickaway, Highland, Fayette Joint Solid Waste Management District Director Erica Tucker and Assistant Director Lauren Grooms met with commissioners to discuss the RPHF SWMD’s proposed updated plan as well as the district’s efforts to absorb the county’s recycling program.

According to Tucker, the public comment period for the 2024-2038 revised draft of the Solid Waste Management Plan update is open now. The proposed plan, which is 311 pages, can be viewed at…. It is also available at the Highland County Administration Building or the Hillsboro library. 

Tucker said she has spoken to Highland County Engineer Chris Fauber and is in the process of meeting with township trustees, as she said 90 percent of townships have to sign off on the proposal. 

Tucker stressed that “we’re not increasing fees” with this plan.

“We’re just really going to focus in more on business recycling,” she said. “We don't want to discredit the fact that we're still going to have bins for our residents, but we really want to hone in on just having that recycling center, or recycling centers, because that's going to be your more focal point, when you're driving into town, for people to be able to recycle.”

Although nothing is set in stone for Highland County, Tucker said she is in the process of presenting an idea to a property owner for a potential recycling center site. 

Fayette County already has a central recycling center, which requires a membership, and Tucker said that model “has proven” to work. 

Tucker and Grooms also discussed Highland County’s recycling program, as they said they are working to make contacts with partners throughout the county.

As previously reported, commissioners announced in August that they were looking for a replacement to take over the Highland County recycling program, which had formerly been handled by Highland County Community Action. Tara Campbell of HCCAO continued to assist with the program for several months, but Tucker said their office is working on running the program now.

Daniels thanked Campbell, who was also at Wednesday’s meeting, for the “great job” she did with the program. Tucker said Campbell continues to help answer questions during this transition.

“We have events planned already for your county,” Tucker said. “I feel like this year, we’re just kind of getting that feel for what the goals are for this county. Please definitely let us know if there's something that comes up, an idea that you have that maybe we could expand on or work on, something for the future. We're definitely all open to that.

“Right now, I think we're just trying to get those contacts within the schools, and Tara has been really good about helping us out with that.”

Campbell encouraged any Highland County residents with questions about the recycling program to contact the SWD now, at (740) 420-5452.

In other discussion:

• Commissioners voted to rescind a resolution passed in December authorizing a proposed tax levy replacement for Highland County Children Services, then subsequently approved a revised revolution for the proposed tax levy replacement.

As previously reported, on Nov. 29, commissioners voted 3-0 to “declare it necessary to levy a tax and request an estimate from the Highland County Auditor” for Highland County Children Services. At that meeting, Highland County Job & Family Services Director Jeremy Ratcliff said it would be “the first step in investigating a levy for the ballot in March.” Commissioners then approved the resolution for the levy Dec. 13.

According to Ratcliff and Highland County Auditor Alex Butler, the reason for the updated legislation Wednesday was to make a correction. The levy issue will still be a 0.9-mill levy, Ratcliff said. 

“This is just a correction of the the former legislation that we did,” Butler said. “We had to correct some numbers that were transposed.”

“That’s my understanding as well, just making sure that the resolution language matches the auditor certification, how much we're going to collect annually,” Ratcliff added.

At the time of the initial resolution approval, it was estimated that the levy, if approved, would bring in $795,883. The resolution passed Wednesday said the “estimated collection value” is “$883,000 annually.”

In response to a question from Daniels, Ratcliff said that the Highland County Board of Elections advised that the resolution will “not affect the timeline” to have the issue on the March 19 primary ballot.

A proposed five-year, one-mill replacement levy for the agency failed in the Nov. 7 general election. Commissioners voted last August to approve the request from Ratcliff to seek the levy for Children Services, amid rising cases and associated costs for the agency over the past several years.

The previous tax levy, which was first approved in November 2013 and renewed by voters in November 2018, was a five-year, .9-mill levy for Children Services placement costs and expired Dec. 31, 2023. The levy the agency is seeking in March would be at the same rate.

• At the recommendation of Highland County Human Resources director Amy Bradley, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the hiring of Maddisen Mikkelsen as a part-time intern for the county, effective Jan. 31.

Bradley said that Jan. 31 was Mikkelsen’s last day as an intern for the county through the Highland County ACCESS program, which provides workforce development opportunities for area high school students. During her tenure, she assisted the HR department as well as the records department, Bradley told commissioners.

“She’s been a fantastic intern,” Bradley said. “I would like to recommend that she be hired as a part-time temporary intern. I know she's already accepted to university, so I know there's a hard stop date for that, but I'd like to recommend she be hired through the end of the school year, with potential if possible through summer, if availability allows.”

Commissioners agreed to hire Mikkelsen for three hours a day, five days a week, dependent upon her availability.

“It’s my understanding she has done an excellent job,” Britton said.  

Bradley agreed, and said that both she and the records department had “great things to say” about Mikkelsen.

• Daniels said that Highland County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Kevin Greer notified the commissioners’ office that he has sworn in Richelle Fair and Bryana Williamson as humane officers for the Highland Humane Society.

“We contribute a small portion to one of the salaries there, so we were notified of that and wanted to make the public aware,” Daniels said.

• Britton noted that Highland County commissioners visited the site of the new Honda/LG plant in Fayette County Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the invitation of Fayette County commissioners.

“They gave us a little presentation of what they were doing, Honda and LG did, and then they took us on a tour throughout and around the facility, and we actually went in the facility in a couple of spots,” Britton said. “It is a huge plant, and there are a lot of things going on up there. 

“The end result is it's going to change the demographics of Highland County and all the surrounding counties, when this thing gets built.”

Britton said the companies “are looking at 2,200 employees,” and Daniels said some positions are being posted already.

“They’re planning to have something ready to go sometime this year,” Britton said.

• Butler reported that the property tax bills “have been sent to the printer, and those will be due March 1.”

• At 10 a.m., commissioners hosted the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission’s first-round county caucus.

In other action, commissioners made the following approvals, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A resolution to authorize an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within the Block Grant PY22 (CI) fund in the amount of $40,079.17.

• A resolution to authorize a request for Board of Developmental Disabilities from Transfers Out Board of DD to 2125 Community Residential in the amount of $650,000.

• A memorandum of understanding between commissioners and the Southern Ohio Educational Service Center for the county’s 2024 contribution to the Highland County ACCESS program.

• A motion to authorize the commission president to execute a change order from Federal Signal for siren inspection and administrative processing. The contractor was awarded a tornado siren replacement project for the Village of Greenfield last June.

• A quote from Schindler Elevator Corporation for a hydraulic pump replacement, as part of ongoing repair work on the Highland County Administration Building’s elevator.

For more from Wednesday's morning, go to:….


Rocky fork resident (not verified)

5 February 2024

So for the ones that are struggling that live on a fixed income, and cannot afford the ridiculous rates that we pay now. I guess you won't be able to eat or get your medications or maybe even just have power. But it's okay as long as the officials in office keep padding their pockets, and making it as difficult as possible for us that live here.

David Anthony Mayer (not verified)

5 February 2024

The EV battery plant lacks nearby housing for 2200 employees. Hillsboro is about 45 minutes away as are many other communities. Rents and home prices will increase in these areas. The demographics will certainly change. In two recent trips from and to Morrow thru Jeffersonville, I see no major housing developments except for five just southwest of Morrow. The impacted counties need to address the coming housing shortfall. Especially Highland County.

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