Judge orders Mt. Union and RUSS to mediation
By TRISHA PHELPS
Mt. Pleasant News
Progress is being made — slowly — on the dispute between the City of Mt. Union and the Regional Utility Service Systems (RUSS).
The City of Mt. Union and RUSS had a hearing on the current litigation yesterday at the Henry County Courthouse, ending in mediation. Judge Mary Ann Brown ruled yesterday that it would be in the best interest of both parties to try and negotiate a settlement.
“It was basically brought to Mt. Union’s attention that it would be in its best interest to come to us and have mediation,” said RUSS executive director Bruce Hudson about yesterday’s hearing. “We agreed to arbitration, but RUSS has decided not to pull our lawsuit off the table.”
Mt. Union mayor John Marek was also pleased with the hearing’s result. “The good news for the city is that we went into arbitration yesterday,” said Marek. “We went into arbitration because the judge told us that if she would have ruled that day, she would have ruled in favor of the city that RUSS cannot put in shut-off valves because there are no individual contracts between the individuals and RUSS.
“On the other hand,” Marek continued, “she would have ruled in favor of RUSS in the city was owing them the money. So RUSS would have won the case that the city owed them the money, but would not have been able to shut people off that weren’t paying. In other words, there is no enforcement mechanism in place for the 28E agreement.”
Marek noted that the city is looking into ways to pay RUSS for the money that is owed, but is unsure of where to find the money.
“The city is now going to go the state to work with the Iowa League of Cities and the auditor’s office to find funding for this to work,” Marek said. “For this to work, we have to work something out to find where we can find a middle ground.
“The problem is that the city is already maxed out on property taxes,” Marek continued. “I can’t raise taxes to pay for it. We are going to do our due diligence. We are going to show that the City of Mt. Union has gone out to these agencies and sat down with them and they are going to be the ones to tell us this is where we can get money or there is no way to do it.”
Although Monday’s hearing is not the end of the dispute between Mt. Union and RUSS, Hudson is enthusiastic about the progress that is being made.
“I think RUSS is optimistic with the direction we are going,” Hudson said. “It is in the best interest of RUSS and the City of Mt. Union to get this thing resolved and get it behind us.”
Hudson said he would like to see RUSS and the City of Mt. Union become partners and provide a much-needed service, free of conflict, to the people of Mt. Union.
“We can provide what Mt. Union asked for and that is sewer service,” said Hudson. “We have given them a functioning, viable system that works very well that RUSS does believe is affordable. For long-term and growth, it gives the city opportunity.”