Tempers flare at Fillmore meeting

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Water and sewer bill issues caused tempers to flare among residents attending the Fillmore Town Council meeting Thursday night.

The tiny burg is still beleaguered by issues with their water and sewer systems as town council members Jeff Osborn, Wes Terhune and Allen Jones struggle to get accounting issues cleaned up enough to put a new plan in action.

"We have to get the books straightened out so we know what money we have to work with," Board President Jeff Osborn told the group. "We need equitable billing for water and sewer and we're working toward improving the entire town's utility structure."

The town is carrying over $1 million dollars in debt with water and sewer arrears in excess of $86,000.

Clerk-Treasurer Wanda Seidler reported at a past meeting that vacant houses receiving no public utilities services have still been issued bills, for an unknown period of time.

According to Osborn, those "phantom bills," have contributed significantly to the arrears, but will never be collected.

The board looked at a couple of bills for persons who do not have a structure and are not using any water or sewer services. They determined the bills were generated from paying to hook into the town's city and water system ten years ago.

The cost to be able to join the water system was $750 paid in approximately $6.50 monthly increments. The cost for the right to sewer hookup was $1,000.

"The people with these bills want them discontinued. I think we should allow that. After ten years they have more than paid the hook up fees," said Osborn.

However, Town Attorney Betty Harrington advised the board they needed to review the town ordinance before making any decision so the matter was tabled until the August meeting.

"There is no way we can go back and make all of that right," Osborn said, but he assured residents that the council will make billing equitable in the future. "Some may find themselves paying a little more, some a little less. We're trying to get the town under control, so please, bear with us."

The discontinuation of a $500 monthly payment to water superintendent David Gilley, who resigned in May, was a hot topic among the audience.

Family members of Gilley spoke about the embarrassment of the situation and asked for a public declaration from the board that Gilley had done nothing wrong.

"We never considered any wrong doing on the part of David Gilley or the previous council," Osborn said.

He went on to explain that when the current board took over in January their attorney advised the board that this payment was not legal.

The cost of the Distribution System Small (DSS) certification is about $30 per year. That fee plus the cost of any Continuing Education is reimbursed by the town.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) does not require, or expect, that any bonus will be paid to town employees for holding the DSS certification.

"Our intent is to look out for the well-being of the town. We need to pull together and work together in a positive way. I hope we can heal old wounds, be good neighbors, and wave and smile at each other and be good townspeople," said Osborn ending the heated discussion taking place among the town's residents.

In other business the council gave the town a "heads up" that mandatory 911 address compliance is coming.

"There are many addresses in town that are difficult for emergency personnel to locate. Some people will eventually have to have new addresses," explained Osborn.

"We went to 911 and asked to be in compliance and now they are coming to us and saying we are required to be in compliance," he added.

The town also requested help from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to help pay for repairs on streets and at the lift station. Funds if approved will pay 90 percent of estimated costs.

Town resident Cheryl Bumgardner complained of four wheelers, dirt and mini bikes racing around Westwood Street.

"Somebody is going to get hurt. There are little kids on these bikes and they race up and down Westwood," she told council members.

Town Marshal Tom Helmer responded saying that while the board is looking at the county's ordinance and planning to adapt it to Fillmore; he intended to ticket and impound the vehicles.

The county's ordinance requires that anyone driving these vehicles be licensed drivers, carry insurance and be of legal age with a drivers license.

"They are going to be cited and I'm going to have them towed," stated Helmer.

Helmer also reported to the board that Cenon Heim will be named as Deputy Town Marshal as soon as he finishes his training. Heim lives in town and will be more accessible to town residents.

The town is also waiting to retire its police car as soon as the County Commissioners approve the town receiving a used car from the Putnam County Sheriffs department. Osborn explained that he expected that approval to come at the next County Commission meeting.

Osborn ended the meeting reminding residents that the new council has an entire program mapped out to fix problems with the water and sewer issues, but feel it is too early to roll it out.

"We have explained it in the town's newsletter and hope people will be patient. We have to fix the chart of accounts and put the numbers where they belong. It's a tedious process and we are working on it. We want to bring down utility bills. We want to build a strong community with positive growth and property values," he said.

The Fillmore Town Council meets on the first Thursday of the month at the Town Hall.

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