Panel split over increase in legal fees

Seneca County commissioners raised the indigent counsel attorney fees on a 2-1 vote at their Tuesday meeting.

Board President Jeff Wagner, who voted against the resolution, said Seneca County’s fees were equal to Hancock County and reminded the board of other ways the county could use that money, including vehicles for the sheriff’s department, EMS and a new courthouse.

“To me, all those things come before raising the indigent counsel fees, because realistically … that’s $50,000 you can’t spend on a courthouse or a cruiser or EMS,” he said.

“This is probably going to indicate that we won’t be able to set aside what we hoped we could for the courthouse, but the judges are asking for this,” Commissioner Holly Stacy said.

Commissioner Fred Zoeller asked that, if the resolution passed, it would not take effect until Jan. 1 in order to appropriate the funds necessary for the fee increase.

In discussion, Zoeller cited state law and a “moral responsibility” to provide for those who cannot afford counsel.

“It’s a tough situation. … We have to take care of the less fortunate in the county,” he said.

Zoeller gave an update on the New Riegel Sewer District. Fostoria has been required by the EPA to make a $20 million, 20-year investment in its sewer system. Due to this, the city has had to increase sewer rates.

The city is also able to charge up to 125 percent of their rate to New Riegel and others outside of the city.

Last year, the total bill from New Riegel to Fostoria was $35,000. The bill for this year is $77,000.

Zoeller also said he was collecting information on the rates of surrounding communities to compare to Fostoria’s rate and has spoken to Rep. Jeff McClain and Rep. Rex Damschroder to discuss legislation to “put cuffs on the EPA.”

“The bottom line here is that the EPA has mandated some things … that [are] almost a detriment to anything in economic development,” Zoeller said. “If these rates continue to escalate, we’re going to make New Riegel a ghost town.”

Zoeller also has been in contact with Rural Community Assistance Program, which established the equivalent dwelling unit (EDU). The rate is then applied to the unit for each dwelling or business that uses the sewer system. RCAP is to re-evaluate EDU ratings of business establishments at no cost.

Zoeller also said Ohio Department of Transportation has put up for bid the 53 Coalition project.

“They are requesting engineering firms to bid on the project to come up with a study,” Zoeller said. “Before ODOT does anything, they have to study it.”

The estimated cost of the study is $100,000. ODOT is putting up $50,000 for the study at this time and is looking toward the rest of the coalition to possibly fund the study. Zoeller said that the cost of the study may change, depending on how much money ODOT provides.

His plan is in anticipation of the cost.

Because the project would benefit Seneca County the most, Zoeller suggested that the county pay $25,000 toward the study.

“I believe that I can get a partnership between private and public… to come up with half of the $25,000,” he said. Between donations and the involvement of the Home Builders Association, he said that he thought that he could come up with the funds.

Zoeller proposed that Ottawa County and Sandusky County pay $10,000 and Wyandot County pay $5,000. He said that in the coalition, Wyandot County is the least motivated to participate. By keeping its contribution small, Zoeller thinks it will stay motivated in the project.

“Things are moving forward here in a very positive mode,” he said.

Zoeller also commended Boy Scout Troop 444 and Travis Gase for the work they have put into rehabilitation of the Seneca County Cemetery. He also thanked Welly’s Monument for fixing broken headstones.

At the completion of the project, Zoeller said they would like to hold a ceremony to recognize those involved. They should be finished by mid-October.

The board also discussed potential repair work for the outer wall of the County Services Building.

Earl Reid from Palmer Energy is to investigate the roof and the wall to make sure the building does not leak.

The board decided to wait for Reid’s assessment before proceeding.

Wilson said County Auditor Julie Adkins reminded the board that the quarter-percent increase in sales tax starting Sunday is not through the county. It is a state tax and none of the funds will come back locally.

Zoeller also said individuals in Adams Township are to start a ditch petition. He said he would help facilitate the process.

Due to Tom Miller’s retirement from the Port Authority Board of Directors, the board appointed Carl Miller to finish his unexpired term.

In new business, the board approved:

A supplemental appropriation of $10,928 for the Concealed Handgun License Fund.

A supplemental appropriation of $25,929.35 for the Workforce Investment Act Fund

A supplemental appropriation of $1,000 for the Juvenile/Probate Court Computer Fund.

A supplemental appropriation of $20,000 for Juvenile Programs and Services Fund.

An appropriation adjustment of $6,160.05 within the General Fund.

An authorization allowing the 2014 Worker’s Compensation Group Retrospective Rating Plan Agreement between Seneca County and County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

An authorization allowing the board to enter into the Issue 1-Round 28 Cooperative Agreements with the Seneca County Township Board of Trustees.

The resignation of Ryon Forman as in intermittent maintenance worker for the Seneca County Maintenance Department through the TANF Summer Youth Employment Program effective Aug. 23.

An authorization allowing the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund Assistance Agreement with the Ohio EPA for the Home Sewage Treatment System Improvement through WSOS.