After months of disagreements and delay, the Southwest Barry County Sewer and Water Authority board moved to put the past in the rear view mirror and move forward with the possibility of a sewer district in the Hickory Corners area to include Gilmore Car Museum.
Tuesday, authority members agreed a feasibility study already commissioned from Prein & Newhof on a sewer district and service to Gilmore’s is the next step needed to decide if the project can become a reality.
The board took several steps in the effort to resolve past differences and move the initiative forward, including:
*to expedite authority business, the board will meet monthly instead of every other month,
*as an expression of good faith, the board waives payment for an invoice for out-of-pocket expenses made in response to a 2011 sewer service request by Gilmore.
*directed authority Manager Mark Doster to cooperate with Gilmore staff and associates with regard to the feasibility study.
*directed authority staff and engineer to comply with reasonable requests for information for Prein & Newhof’s feasibility study before an escrow account is used.
*instead of accessing $10,000 in escrow from Gilmore up front, the authority will wait until the feasibility study is completed and use the funds for engineering and legal expenses when the project gets underway.
*send a letter to Barry County Commissioner David Jackson and Gilmore outlining the changes they are making.
“This letter will move us off dead center,” Prairieville Supervisor Jim Stoneburner said. Hope Township representative David Messelink agreed: “This has been dragging on too long.”
The board’s moves were encouraged by Jackson, who has been pushing for action on the authority’s latest request for sewer service. He said was “fairly discouraged” in his past dealings with the board, feeling that Doster was giving them incorrect information and the board was too quick to defend him.
He urged the board to put a poor relationship (with former longtime director Michael Spezia) aside, “and show Gilmore we’re ready to roll out the red carpet.” He proposed an oversight committee to follow each development in the Hickory Corners/Gilmore project and provide timely updates to the full board. He suggested putting off buying property in favor of investing it for the people by creating more sewer customers and also develop a budget for long-term infrastructure maintenance.
Jackson also asked the board to do a comprehensive compensation study of Doster’s salary in the near future. Doster started out part time for $25,000 a year, he said, and was given a 64 percent increase for being a project manager while working eight to 15 hours a week.
“If it was full time, it would not be an issue; but for 10 hours a week, it’s outrageous.” //
“The issue with Gilmore has been going now for six years,” Doster said. In 2011, Gilmore had asked for sewer service but was not in a sewer district. The authority had run up a legal bill of $2,500 in the process. Doster said Gilmore was billed for the costs, but they chose not to pay it and put in their own system.
When Gilmore again said they wanted to hook up Doster said, “this board and others pay on the sewer system; we thought it would be unfair to add that burden. To make a request, they would have to put money into escrow. We felt to go forward, they needed to comply with the money and escrow and we would not to entertain requests until they did.”
During the course of the meeting, Doster was pressed by Messelink on the clear direction for Doster to cooperate with Gilmore that was missing in the October meeting minutes. To Doster’s concern that system capacity might not be enough for the proposed project, Messelink said when Pennock Hospital was going to build a new hospital, Doster said they could supply that.
“You were willing to go to Hastings. If you can go there, you can go here…are we incurring expense just to answer questions? My answer is not,” Messelink said.
Barry Township Supervisor Wes Kahler said they should be looking at requests from townships. “It’s a cost of doing business, as far as I can see; any and all projects. …we've never asked any other township projects for money in escrow.”
Authority board members:
Barbara Earl, supervisor of Johnstown Township
Jim Stoneburner, supervisor of Prairieville Township (chair)
Wes Kahler, supervisor of Barry Township
Dave Messelink, Hope Township representative
Richard VanNiman, Prairieville Township trustee
The plant operator is Scott Monroe.