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Ordinance to waive special hookup fee might not hold water

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(Brian Davis/Daily Reporter graphic)
(Brian Davis/Daily Reporter graphic)

GREENFIELD — An ordinance that had Greenfield City Council members split and confused last month on whether to waive a special water hookup fee for two Southside neighborhoods now appears doomed.

The ordinance would rescind the $2,159 special hookup fee for Bowman Acres and the original section of Chapman Estates. Councilman Kerry Grass lives in the affected area and would benefit from the new rules.

While only two members voted against the first reading of the ordinance last month, most now say they are against the issue entirely. It’s on the agenda again for Wednesday’s meeting, and most members say they will vote against it not only because of the conflict of interest with Grass but because it would be unfair to waive a fee that most residents have already paid.

“You know, it’s one of those things that I don’t see it passing,” said Councilman Gary McDaniel.

McDaniel, the only member absent from last month’s meeting, says he has researched the issue and made up his mind to vote against it next week.

“I’m surprised Kerry (Grass) brought it to the council,” McDaniel said. “I’m sure somebody asked him to do it, but there’s a big conflict of interest there.”

McDaniel added that even if Grass hadn’t asked for the ordinance to be written, he wouldn’t be in favor of it because 176 of the 215 homes in the two neighborhoods have already paid to hook on to the city’s water.

Last month, councilmen Greg Carwein, Mitch Pendlum and Jason Horning voted in favor of the ordinance on first reading. Grass spoke in favor of it at the meeting but abstained during the vote. Council members John Patton and Judy Swift voted against it.

Now, Pendlum and Horning say they’ll change their votes. Even Mayor Dick Pasco, who could be asked to vote if there is a tie, is against the idea.

“I said from the start that I want to be consistent, one set of rules for everybody,” Pasco said. “I think I’m selling my principles out if I vote ‘yes’ for that.”

The situation is unusual because both neighborhoods were annexed into the city and had well water, but in the early 1990s residents expressed that they wanted to hook onto city water. The city paid $375,500 to construct water lines to the residents, and charged a special hookup fee to reimburse Greenfield Utilities for the expense.

All but 39 of the homes have paid the special fee to ditch well water and hook onto city utilities. Grass is one homeowner who has not paid the fee.

While Grass acknowledged that it would be nice to have city water and that he would personally benefit if the ordinance passed, he also said he asked for the ordinance to be written on behalf of his constituents.

He said residents have talked to him about the fee; one, for example, 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.

While Grass said he may propose a change to the ordinance at next week’s meeting, he declined further comment on the issue Thursday.

Carwein said he’d like to know more about the issue before voting on it next week. He said he may not be in favor of waiving the fee entirely, and the ordinance may be amended.

Still, Swift and Patton say they remain against the ordinance. Swift said she tried to look at the issue overall, rather than zeroing in on the conflict of interest with Grass.

Swift said since most of the residents have already paid the fee, city officials shouldn’t waive it now. She’s received plenty of feedback in the last two weeks: People have thanked her for her stance.

Pendlum and Horning have also heard a lot from local residents. Both said they voted in favor of the first reading last month because they wanted to look into the issue.

Pendlum said he’s heard from several south side residents who already paid the fee who would be upset if the city were to waive the fee now.

“About everywhere I go – coffee, grocery stores, at the wellness center; it’s just about everywhere I go,” he said. “It doesn’t look good, not just because of Kerry Grass.”

Horning said the only reason he’d want to waive the fee is if the city could refund the $380,000 already paid by all the other residents.

“But I’m not sure that’s a viable option for us, with the cost,” he said.

Indeed, Mike Fruth, city utility director, said even though Greenfield Utilities does have the cash on hand to refund money to residents who have already paid, that’s not a viable option. Then the cost of the project would essentially be on the backs of all ratepayers, which is not the deal city leaders agreed on 21 years ago.

“Financially, that would be a big hit,” he said.

Looking back, Pasco said Grass did the right thing by abstaining on the vote. Ultimately, council members represent local residents, and Pasco said if Grass truly heard from people in favor of waiving the fee, it’s OK that he brought it before the council even if it would also benefit him.

“If people contacted him, he did his job as a councilman,” Pasco said. “But if he’s had calls from people against it, he’d need to voice his opinion (next week).”

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