Town denies family reimbursement

Friday, March 11, 2016

ROACHDALE -- The Town of Roachdale decided it is not liable for the back payment of more than $5,000 to a family whose sewage system was never correctly updated nearly 40 years ago.

Malcolm and Barbara Stewart, who were present for this month's public meeting at Roachdale's town hall, say they will now be "talking to an attorney" after receiving the board's decision Tuesday to deny their request of $5,769.93.

"It was somebody's fault," Barbara Stewart said, acknowledging that none of the current board members are to blame for the 40-year-old oversight. "Somebody dropped the ball and it has cost us over $8,000.

"Roachdale has this money that really belongs to Malcolm and I really feel like the town owes him that," she added. "I don't know of anyone that wouldn't feel that way."

However, after thorough investigation by newly-elected board member Holly Cook and others, it was found that the town enacted its "due dilligence" to oblige the property with wastewater removal since the property in question was indeed connected.

It was the responsibility of the original proprietor, Cook said, to ensure any connection to the town's sewage system was properly established.

"I truly sympathize with the Stewarts -- it could be me, it could be anyone here -- it's a horrible thing that happened," Cook said. "But I have, myself, talked to the Indiana Rural Water Association, town managers in two local communities, a town clerk, a retired judge and (Roachdale attorney) David Peables about this. I have agonized over this."

It had been concluded in previous public meetings that sometime in the early 1970s, when the town established its current wastewater system and ordinances, an error ocurred between the property owner and the town. With an obligation by the land owner to ensure its connection (and the subsequent failure to do so), the town is ultimately not at fault.

Coincidentally, neither is the current owner, although evidence of such an error could have been caught by the Stewarts upon purchasing the property through "sales disclosures."

Therefore, the town is not liable for reimbursement, Cook said.

"Essentially, the problem occurred when the property, at the time, was not legally hooked up and was not in compliance with the town. We don't know who and we don't know why, but that's where the problem ocurred.

"In (its) due dilligence, the town -- thinking the property was hooked up to the sewer -- did what (it) was supposed to do, which is to bill the customer," Cook said. "The town would have no way of knowing otherwise. That's what sales disclosures are for ... (the Stewarts) didn't do anything wrong and the town didn't do anything wrong.

"It's a horrible situation and I truly feel sorry they had to experience this."

The board then motioned to deny the request, passing said-action with a 3-0 vote amongst comments from the Stewarts that further action will be sought to acquire what they consider to be the "bottom dollar."

In other developments:

* The Ruby Bell property, located at 102 W. Railroad St., has not seen the cleanup progress that was assured to the town on multiple occasions.

"Promise after promise" has been given by the Bells, most recently at the town's February public meeting. The family, which has for nearly 10 years been ordered by several officials and judges to clean its property (with multiple deadlines never met), has officially failed to do so despite excessive reassurance and conducive weather.

The board moved Tuesday to proceed with a lawsuit against the family who ultimately blames the town for offenses ranging from minor to life-altering.

The subject is expected to come to produce results in the coming months.

* Resident Josh Higgins brought several concerns to the board Tuesday concerning his property.

Higgins first spoke of a high level of traffic through the alleyway behind his house -- abnormal traffic that he says is due to the lack of dead-end road signs as vehicles approach the eastern end of Washington Street.

He next turned his attention to an adjacent property at 405 E. Washingston St. that is notoriously unkempt. Animals and other issues with the disarranged yard affecting his property were discussed.

Finally, Higgins requested information for obtaining a building permit to add to his home.

The board responded in kind, citing the launch of an investigation into his neighbor's property, the approval of a dead-end sign leading up to the alleyway at the end of Washington Street and assurance that, as long as his addition doesn't come within five feet of the road, a permit will be granted upon request.

* Clerk-Treasurer Debbie Sillery reported that the town office will be closed on March 18 for small renovations to the offices as well as an update to the software system. In fact, the new Keystone software recently adopted by the town is currently "up and running," Sillery said.

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