GREENFIELD — The Greenfield City Council meeting took an odd turn Wednesday night when the group was split on an issue that would financially benefit one of its own members.
Councilman Kerry Grass asked city attorney Tom Billings to write an ordinance that would rescind a special water hookup fee for his Chapman Estates neighborhood. The move would save the councilman more than $2,100.
Grass lives in the original section of Chapman Estates, Section 1, which was built as a county neighborhood and serviced by water wells. That section was annexed into the city in 1967. Bowman Acres, also on the city’s south side, was brought into the city in 1972. Both neighborhoods had well water, but in the early 1990s residents expressed that they wanted to hook onto city water, Greenfield Utility Director Mike Fruth explained.
The city spent roughly $375,500 in 1992 to construct a water distribution system. City officials at the time decided to spread the expense, via a special fee, among residents who wanted to hook on to city water.
While any home in the city must pay $1,100 for a city water hookup, Bowman and Chapman residents who want to switch from well service to city water must pay an additional $2,159 for their fair share of the city’s $375,500 expense.
Fruth said the situation is unique because in other neighborhoods, homes are built after annexation and the builder pays the water hook-up fees. Here, the homes were already built and the city made a special investment and special rules to bring city water into the neighborhoods.
“Since then, out of the total 215 lots in both Bowman and Chapman, all but 39 people have paid their hook-on fees and hooked onto the water line,” Fruth said.
Grass is one of those who has not.
The ordinance would waive the $2,159 special charge for Bowman and Chapman residents.
The council on Wednesday had a first reading on the ordinance that would rescind the connection fee.
The unique situation brought on plenty of questions by the council, and so far two members are against the idea.
Grass, who wants the reliability of city water, acknowledges that the ordinance would benefit him financially. But he also says plenty of his neighbors also want the special charge to be waived.
Grass said he spoke to Councilman Greg Carwein about the issue. While Grass said Carwein agreed to be the “author” of the ordinance, it was unclear Wednesday who initiated it because nobody made a formal presentation.
Grass said he asked Carwein to carry the issue in an ordinance as a means of distancing himself from it, but he later acknowledged that he was the one who asked for the ordinance to be written.
“I’ve told all the other council members I would be benefiting from it, so I’d be abstaining from it,” Grass said.
And Grass did abstain from the vote Wednesday. Councilmen Carwein, Jason Horning and Mitch Pendlum were in favor of the initial hearing, while council President John Patton and Judy Swift were against it. Gary McDaniel was absent.
Swift says waiving the fees is not fair to the 176 homes that have paid the full price to hook onto the city’s water.
“Most of them have already paid to have that done,” Swift said. “There’s a few that are still left in each area that have not paid to have it done…. That’s not fair to the ones that have already paid.”
“The city and the residents of the subdivision had an agreement which specifies the fees … for hooking into the water system,” Patton said. “Some chose to hook up, some chose not to; and now it seems to me we’re being asked to change the rules for the last few that haven’t been hooked up. I cannot find a compelling reason to do that.”
Carwein could not be reached for comment, but the other two who were in favor of the idea are not quite sure how they’ll vote at the next meeting. Horning said he’s still trying to research the issue, and voted in favor of it at the initial reading because he wanted more time to consider it. Pendlum was also reluctant, but voted in favor, he said, for the same reason.
Grass said he’s spoken to council members individually about the issue, only to tell them that he won’t be voting on it. He said he’s not trying to sway votes, and is being up front that the issue would benefit him.
Grass said there’s confusion over how the fees work, and he didn’t even realize there was a special hook-up charge for his neighborhood until a neighbor complained to him about it. The resident had wanted to sell his home, but the deal fell flat because of the expensive hook-on fees, Grass said.
Another resident, he said, had a problem filing for a Federal Housing Administration loan because city water was available to them but they couldn’t afford to hook on to it.
Grass also points out that at one time there had been a discount for residents to hook on, but now there is no discount available. That’s not fair to residents who have since moved to the neighborhoods, he said.
In the coming weeks, Grass said he’ll be talking with neighbors about the issue and encouraging them to speak to council members if they want the charge to be waived.
Mayor Dick Pasco said because there wasn’t a clear majority in favor of the issue Wednesday night, the issue is tabled until the next meeting.
Pasco said he understands both sides of the issue. He said while it would be nice to have the situation cleared up to where nobody is paying a special charge to hook onto city water, it’s also not fair to residents who have already paid.
If Pasco had to vote Wednesday night to break a tie, he said he would have voted against the measure. But he said he’s open to learning more.
“I don’t know, it’s one of those things you can just sway back and forth,” Pasco said.