ST. LEON – Serious. Unhappy. Tense. Those were the emotions on the faces of about 55 attendees at the Dec. 5 St. Leon Town Council meeting. So many people came that it had to be held in the firehouse basement with microphones and speakers set up. There was no idle chatter.

The council had to decide whether to rezone 13 acres east of State Road 1 and north of I-74 from residential to Business-2 after the issue was tabled Nov. 7.

Surveyor Dennis Kraus Jr., who represented owners Gerhard and Frances Deddens, said, “At this time they don’t have any plans,” but want to market it as business land. The St. Leon Plan and Zone Board gave the request a favorable recommendation Oct. 5.

Member Andy Bischoff asked, “What’s their plan to access this?” Kraus replied, “We don’t have an answer for that yet.” He suggested the most logical fix would be to extend Christina Drive. “We don’t want to rule out accessing from State Road 46.”

President Doug Farrow reported a sewer impact study on business usage there had not been done. Bischoff pointed out, “It’s hard to do a sewer study without knowing what’s going to be there.”

Chuck Andres, former council president and former acting wastewater treatment plant superintendent, said the diameters of S.R. 46 and Christina Drive sewer lines are adequate because development is expected there. “The only question is the plant capacity.”

Attorney John Watson advised the panel had to act that night or the recommendation of SLPZB would stand.

All three voted to deny the request. According to Bischoff, “Our main concern is the adequacy of the existing entrance into it and the service line going into the property ... I realize the town does need business, but we don’t need to jump into something we won’t be able to handle.”

The next topic was what drew most to the meeting. The council had to appoint two members, District 1 and at large, to the St. Leon Sewer Advisory Board that is under fire for requiring mandatory sewer hookups.

Sewer board President Andy Ziegler said the panel could make two recommendations from the five applicants: Jimmy Fox, District 1; and John Maxwell, at large. “We felt the two recommended candidates are the most qualified.” Bischoff asked if any applicants were interviewed. No, Ziegler replied.

According to Bischoff, “These appointments seem to be a big conflict. I’ve been inundated with phone calls,” especially about the at large seat.

Member Jerry Stenger said, “Jimmy Fox is fine. I think we both feel the same way about Mr. Maxwell.” Because Maxwell is a contractor, council members and other attendees could foresee future conflicts of interest. Bischoff suggested holding a joint executive session for sewer board and council members to interview candidates.

Jake Stenger asked, “You’re not taking any more applicants for the sewer board?” Farrow answered, “We might.”

Merrilynn Hertel questioned, “What are the requirements” to serve on the board? “Do you have to live in the town of St. Leon?”

The council replied board members have to be sewer users.

Donna Imfeld reported, “Maxwell lives on Mount Pleasant.” Bischoff noted he owns an apartment complex in St. Leon that uses the sewer system.

Hertel asked, “Why would you waste the time and energy to interview people if you already know going in it’s a conflict of interest?” Watson explained Maxwell could serve if he meets eligibility requirements, but would have to abstain if he has an interest in what is being voted on.

Thom Hammond, who represents 70 families fighting the mandatory hookups, was rankled that he could not be on the board to represent property owners who own septic systems. He contended that user could mean anyone who uses a toilet on property served by the system.

The council approved Fox as the District 1 member and tabled a decision on the at large position.

Like so many other council meetings, sewer discussion didn’t end there. Cliff Eibeck waved an April 11 letter from the council. “It tells me I have to abandon my septic system. Is that true?” Yes was the answer.

He then read from the Constitution, noting it said Eibeck should not “be deprived of life, liberty or property (such as a septic tank) without due process of law … or just compensation. All laws that are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.” Turning to the attorney and raising his voice, he said, “Did you hear that, John?”

Leroy Lobenstein said the night before Thanksgiving while his wife was preparing food, a red sewer light came on. A worker said he could come the next morning and told the customer to take the lid off and adjust the flow. Lobenstein said he banged on the device and the light went off.

“You three guys need their phone numbers” to get more prompt emergency service, he said.

Of asking a customer to repair a sewer problem, Bischoff said, “That should never be.” He said the council will talk to Environmental Engineering Service, Lebanon, Ohio, the sewer operator, to upgrade its policy to provide quicker service.

Farrow noted, “It’s contracted out, but we still have control of it, what they can and can’t do.” Bischoff said, “If they don’t want to change their policy,” officials may think about hiring an emergency service provider and deducting those costs from EES’ contract.

St. Leon salaries provided more discussion. At its Nov. 21 meeting, SLPZB members voted to pay themselves $100 per meeting, Chairman Cliff Bischoff reported. Watson said the 2006 salary ordinance would need to be amended. He said now planning and sewer board members will earn the same amount for “regularly scheduled monthly meetings, not executive sessions. You have to attend to get your money.”

Hammond asked the council president, “How many meetings do you attend each year, Doug?” Farrow guessed about 36 – 12 each of council, planning and sewer meetings. Hammond noted on Sept. 12 Farrow approved a 23 percent raise for himself and other members to $8,000 annually, up from $6,500. The speaker wondered if the connection fee had risen to $4,000 from the original $400 because of such raises.

Hammond questioned, “Do you really think that for the 12 meetings, maybe 36, you deserve a 23 percent increase?” Farrow replied, “I do ... We also plow the roads … and do a lot of other things.”

Getting worked up, Hammond said former council President Terry Boeddeker earned $500 each year at a time when the sewer system was being established and “now you just operate it,” making much more than that. The crowd erupted in applause.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at (812) 934-4343, Ext. 113; The Herald-Tribune, P.O. Box 89, Batesville, IN 47006; or debbie.blank@cnhimedia.com.

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