Illegally tapping into electric and sewer service has become such a problem at Rocky Fork Lake that Highland County Board of Commissioners President Jeff Duncan addressed it during Wednesday’s commissioners meeting.
“Earlier in the week we had a meeting with the prosecutor, a member of the auditor’s office and a gentleman from South Central Power,” Duncan said. “It’s become quite an issue, and we’re going to be doing some follow-up and prosecute these folks for what is technically theft.”
The Ohio Revised Code defines theft of utility service as a first-degree misdemeanor if the value of stolen electricity, plus any utility equipment repair, is under $150. If the value exceeds $150, or if the offender was previously convicted of the same offense, the charge escalates to a fourth-degree felony.
“South Central came to us recently,” commissioner Terry Britton said, “and they found a number of people who are illegally hooked into the grinder boxes, in other words, they’re hot-wiring them after breaking into them.”
He said environmental engineering personnel have been finding sewer lines with evidence of having been dug into, with tap-in procedures having been by-passed.
Commissioner Gary Abernathy said Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera had been notified of the findings so investigations could be conducted, and the offending parties could face legal action from Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins.
“If anybody is doing this, now would be a good time to unhook it,” Abernathy said.
Duncan added that “we’re going to be watching” and that legal action would be pursued against those suspected of engaging in theft of utility service.
In other matters, COVID-19 funding requests from the S-22 Coronavirus Relief Fund were submitted to the review board, which consists of the three Highland County commissioners, Collins and Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley.
As previously reported, Highland County Recorder Chad McConnaughey submitted a request last week of $154,896 for digitization of county records back to the year 1980.
McConnaughey said his request would satisfy a qualification within CARES funding that would limit the amount of people who had to come in and out of the office by making the needed documentation available for download online.
Fawley noted that five Ohio counties have already implemented digitization of county records through CARES funding.
Britton said at a recent webinar held by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the organization recommended using the Richland County contract as a template for applying for CARES funding for similar projects.
McConnaughey’s request met with approval by the five-person board.
Reluctant approval was given for a $59,326 request from the engineer’s office concerning unbudgeted administrative leave for workers sent home during the pandemic lock down.
As previously reported, board member Collins’ contention was that the money was already in the engineer’s budget at the start of the year and didn’t present a qualifying shortfall.
She questioned the true definition of “unfunded administrative leave,” maintaining that the county engineers budget “paid those that were furloughed, whether they were on the job or not.”
Guidance was sought through the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, which informed the board that Fauber’s submission was a qualifying CARES fund request.
Collins disagreed with the claim using administrative leave in a department classified as having essential employees.
“He hired a mowing crew to mow instead of having his people mow, and leaving them on administrative leave,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good use of our money — his budget was not depleted because of COVID.”
It was moved by the board to approve the engineer’s funding request, with Collins presenting the lone dissenting vote.
Sealed bids were opened for a Petersburg/Overman Road intersection improvement project. Submitting bids were: Fillmore Construction for $987,869; The Shelly Co. for $961,673; Rack and Balleuer Excavating Co., Inc. for $1,215,324; and DGM Inc., with a bid of $965,730.
Duncan said the bids would be turned over to the engineer’s office for review, with the awarding of the winning bid to be announced at next week’s commission meeting.
Also Wednesday, four line item budget transfer resolutions were approved, in addition to a resolution that authorized the county engineer to reduce posted load limits on some county structures.
Duncan added that temporary windows for the current administration building window replacement project will be delivered on Sept. 1.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.