Defiance County commissioners discussed a proposed sewer rate increase for county customers during their Monday meeting, but took no action pending some final regulation clarifications.

Noble Township resident Otto Nicely — a former county commissioner — was the only person from the public which attended Monday’s meeting, and expressed opposition to what he considered unfair rate proposals concerning vacant lots.

The county’s proposal calls for assessing a $35.20 charge for vacant lots generally, but only $7.10 for each vacant lot in a mobile home park served by a county wastewater system.

“My question is why discriminate against somebody just because they have a vacant lot setting there, and that trailer court is a businessman — you want to charge him less?” asked Nicely. “Why? A vacant lot is a vacant lot.”

The county’s wastewater supervisor, Brad Fritch, responded that the costs — while not as divergent as what is proposed — were set up like this when Nicely was a commissioner. He noted that the vacant lot cost was $5.20 per mobile home park lot as opposed to $15-20 for other vacant properties, with Nicely observing that the proposed difference ($7.10 and $35.20, respectively) is greater now.

Nicely also did not like the method commissioners have been using for discussing the possible rate increases. The rate hikes have been considered during hearings at commissioners’ regularly scheduled meetings, but Nicely wanted a special public session at the county EMA building in Brunersburg.

He accused commissioners of using tactics employed in Washington, D.C. where legislation is passed before it’s been read or understood, suggesting they’re operating behind closed doors and “shoving” rate increases “down the people’s throats without going out and explaining it to the public.”

However, Commissioner Mick Pocratsky said the meetings have been advertised to the public while Commissioner Ryan Mack asked Nicely, “how are these closed doors?”

Both Commissioner David Kern and Fritch said the rates should have been looked at long ago, perhaps when Nicely was a commissioner. But Nicely noted that at the time “everything was breaking even.”

Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP), a nonprofit agency, is recommending that commissioners combine county-owned systems such as Auglaize (south of Defiance), an express sewer (that takes in Lake Christi Meadows) and Evansport to keep rates the most efficient for all users.

Under this system, monthly rates would increase to $68.75 per household in the first year (from $50 in Evansport, from $55 for Auglaize customers and from $50.40 for the express sewer area). Rates would increase by 3% annually in subsequent years under the proposal.

Middle Gordon Creek Subdivision near Hicksville also has its own treatment system owned by the county, and is subject to the same rate increase proposal.

Commissioners did not approve the proposed rates Monday, opting to wait until related regulations are tweaked. These concern a variety of sewer-related measures, including a requirement that certain users install flow meters.

Such devices are expected to help determine unwanted clean water intrusions into the systems, which officials believe could help reduce in-flow and save property owners money.

Also Monday, commissioners met with Ash Lemons, associate director of the Ability Center of Toledo, and Angie Burton, the agency’s rural office coordinator, to discuss plans to expand activities in rural northwest Ohio counties.

The nonprofit serves low-income persons with disabilities and relies heavily on grants for funding. Besides its main Toledo office, which employs 55 persons with a $5.5 million budget, according to Lemons, the agency has only a satellite office in Bryan. However, during Monday’s session Lemons told commissioners “we just wanted to stop in and let you guys know that we’re planning on doing more in the area than we have in the past.”

One of the organization’s main efforts is supplying “durable medical equipment” to persons in need, Lemons indicated. But the Ability Center also trains and provides assistance dogs, and has an in-house attorney with a staff of three.

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