The Village of Mowrystown on Monday requested that the Highland County Commissioners join the village in establishing a sewer district after the village council raised sewer rates and approved a “more aggressive collection process” for collecting sewer bills – all in an effort to ease ongoing financial strain on the village’s coffers.
But some residents say residents who owe delinquent sewer bills are struggling to put food on the table, and a different approach should be pursued rather than disconnection.
At their weekly meeting Wednesday morning, the commissioners tabled discussion on the matter pending review by Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins.
Mowrystown Village Solicitor Fred Beery told The Times-Gazette after the meeting that a sewer district would represent the interests of the village, county and township equally, and hopefully bring officials closer to finding a long-term solution to the village’s financial problems as they relate to the sewer system.
As reported by The Times-Gazette earlier this year, Mowrystown’s sewer system and wastewater treatment plant have been a source of fiscal stress for both the village and Highland County for more than a decade.
According to information provided by the commissioners’ office, the county took out a loan of more than $2 million about 13 years ago to pay for the treatment plant’s construction, and since then, Mowrystown has been struggling to keep up with paying the county back.
One of the reasons, according to Beery, is delinquent sewer payments from residents – some of whom, the solicitor said, have not made payments for years.
According to a letter addressed to the commissioners from Beery, Mowrystown Village Council took emergency action at its last meeting to raise sewer rates by 30 percent in an effort to pay off the debt and make needed repairs.
Council also approved a “more aggressive collection process,” Beery said in the letter.
Beery told The Times-Gazette that some residents who have been delinquent in their bills have been given notice that if they do not pay up, the village will dig up their sewer lines and cap them.
If they continue passing sewage without being hooked up to an approved system, Beery said the health department will be notified and they will likely be slapped with a violation.
Ashley Hart, a Hillsboro resident whose parents live in Mowrystown, told the commissioners on Wednesday that she finds the decision disturbing.
“The entire system is a mess,” she said. “They’re not concerned about elderly people eating cat food because they can’t go to the grocery store.”
Linda Klump, a Mowrystown resident, told The Times-Gazette that a number of residents who have received shut-off notices have been meeting regularly for about a month to discuss the matter. Klump said the group has considered hiring an attorney to represent them, and added that they have discussed circulating a petition to have the village dissolved.
“We feel like the mayor and the town council do not have the best interest of the residents here in mind when they’re making the decision to do this to people,” she said. “It’s wrong.”
Klump said some residents have paid their bills, but their accounts were never credited, and added that she’s concerned about discrepancies in the village’s finances as a whole.
“It’s crazy, the stuff that’s going on in this village,” she said. “They’re making stuff up as they go along.”
Beery said in the letter that the village is already losing sewer customers due to high prices, and as the issue progresses, “this can only worsen.”
Beery also said the village is “close” to requesting a fiscal caution audit from the Ohio Auditor of State.
Contacted Wednesday, Mowrystown Mayor Frank Terwilliger declined to comment.
Highland County Board of Commissioners President Shane Wilkin said the board will discuss it further as more information is presented.
In other business, the commissioners approved a sewer rate increase for Rocky Fork Lake-area residents by $2 per month. The commissioners said the sewer rates there remain lower than in nearby areas.
The commissioners also approved a resolution declaring Highland County Dog Warden staff employees of the county, and approved routine financial resolutions.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.