Late Breaking

City-County tensions continue

Davis responds to Haas

 

By Barb VanSickle-Roush

Scioto County Candor

After Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas publicly questioned the County about not paying money owed to the City for sewage treatment, the Scioto County Commissioners responded by saying the unpaid bill is a stand against rate increases.

“We have tried to fight the good fight on this one,” Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis, stated while speaking to citizens who had gathered for the Commissioner’s meeting on Feb. 27. “We received the letter from the City about sewage rates being increased in Eden Park, Rigrish Addition, Camp Bennett, and Rosemount. We immediately sent the letter and contracts to our legal counsel Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Danielle Parker.”

Parker was present at the meeting and answered some questions but said little.

Davis stated that the sanitation contracts between Scioto County and Portsmouth regarding City sewage services in several County locations contain specific language to protect the taxpayers of Scioto County who are not represented by the Portsmouth City Council.

“That makes it very difficult for you to have a say, or a voice,” Davis continued. “So, the Commissioners did our job in asking the question, ‘Is this right?’”

According to Parker, letters were sent, and there were discussions between Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas and Parker.

“At this point, we don’t agree,” Davis added. “The City doesn’t agree with our position, or Mr. Haas doesn’t agree with our position, and we don’t agree with their position that the increase was warranted.”

According to Davis, the contracts are clear, the City has to meet specific criteria in order for the County to accept any sewage increases. First, as long as the rate didn’t go beyond what was asked the County has to accept it. Second, is that they had to justify the increase.”

Davis stated that after the letter was sent to the County, Parker advised them to pay nothing, and instead put the money in escrow until negations could be entered into and the problem could be fixed. He added that on Dec. 5, 2017, the Prosecutors Office told the Commissioners to pay the Eden Park contract.

“Let it be known,” Davis said, “that the entire time, according to the contact we had escrowed all the money for the bills. We took the money we would have paid the City and put it in an escrow account so that when resolution is found, according to the contract, we could pay whatever that resolution was. But, the total amount was put in escrow. When she (Parker) came back to us and said, ‘You need pay Eden Park,” it was paid within 24 hours. We listened to our counsel. Our counsel told us not to, then our counsel said pay one. But (Parker) said basically, ‘Stand firm on the other two.’”

Davis indicated that has tried to work with Haas on the matter.

“Mr. Haas was communicated with,” Davis said. “It was explained to him that there was the need to come together and discuss, the need to come together and talk. I don’t know what discussions have been had since then.”

Parker stated that there had been no further interaction between Haas and herself since the Eden Park contract was paid on Dec. 5.

“Ok, there you go, none” said Davis. “You heard that in this room. No discussions have been had between the City Solicitor John Hass and the Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Danyelle Parker. Now, let’s talk about that for a second.”

Davis stated that there had been two separate occasions during the last couple months where Haas has “called out” the Scioto County Commissioners for not paying their bill.

“Last night I went to City Council meeting to discuss ASC,” Davis began. “We found a solution. It was a great County and City collaboration, (ASC) safe for this year. I left the room and went to a different part of the University Center to talk to a group of students that I have been asked to speak to previously. 45 minutes later, I’m walking to my car and my phone lit up, ‘John Hass just threw you under the bus,’ and someone told me what was going on.”

Davis the accused Haas of being deceptive.

“Now I’m going to say this,” Davis continued. “He made misleading comments to the public last night, knowing full well, knowing that this ball is in his court. It is in his office. He has to make the next step. Three months later, after he threatens to sue the county over this issue, three months later, he still has not sent us a proposal for a revised contract, and has not contacted (Parker)”

Davis said that he talked to Haas at the Council meeting on Monday night. He further stated that Haas said he had not had time to discuss the matter.

“THAT’S. NOT. OUR. PROBLEM.,” Davis stressed. “We do not appreciate misleading comments to the public that make it look like we do not pay our bills, when that money is there, and he is the one who needs to come to the table with… whoever… and negotiate on this. Because the contract is clear. The law is clear. And, we will listen to our counsel on this, (Parker) has been right in regards to this. The contract is very clear. And, it has been communicated clearly to the City Solicitor’s office.”

Davis then stated for the record that he was publicly asking Haas to discuss the matter.

“We would be more than happy to sit with him. We need this resolved as well. We want this resolved as well. And the bottom line is, we’re not going to allow something to just happen automatically, when the citizens of Scioto County who are not represented by the City Council do not have a voice, we will not allow it to go through simply as, ‘Oh well, we will just accept it.’ No. The contract is written the way it is written for a reason. And by the way, the other criteria is that they have to prove that the work was done at the sites, at the pump stations, at the facilities, in order to justify the increase,” Davis continued.

He then stated that the City has yet to do so.

“Matter of fact, the one time they did try to justify the increase, it was for the work that they did the year before and have already given us an increase on. Print that.”

Davis concluded by saying, “Let’s get to the facts of the matter.”

Haas threatened the County with a lawsuit over the sewage matter in late November 2017 during a meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, when the former City Manager Derek Allen meeting, presented Council with a financial report that outlined the City’s minimum fund balances and added that many of the City’s funds were in the black; however, the sewage fund remained in the red. Allen explained that some of the fund deficit can be attributed to the County for failure to pay their bills, a bill that Allen said was over $100,000. Haas further stated at the meeting that none of these areas being disputed helped to pay for the City’s treatment plant or other sewer-related infrastructure upgrades. He finally added that the County had not paid a sewer bill since July 2017, before the rate increase.

Tensions between the City and the County have been ongoing for several months.