Mt. Union mayor questions county's future with RUSS
By STEPH TAHTINEN
Mt. Pleasant News
With some counties expressing interest in leaving Regional Utility Service Systems (RUSS), Mt. Union Mayor John Marek wants to know what is in Henry County’s future with the organization.
“I was poked and prodded by my constituents to see what Henry County’s intentions were,” Marek told the board of supervisors during its regular meeting on Thursday morning.
Marek told the supervisors there were three options for the county:
• Get out of RUSS
• Sit back and wait to see what happens
• Stick with RUSS
Mt. Union’s position on RUSS is to “make it go away,” said Marek.
Henry County began its involvement in RUSS in 2005, when Mt. Union needed a wastewater system installed after receiving a violation order from the Iowa DNR. Since then, there has been ongoing issues between Mt. Union and RUSS involving residents who have not been paying their wastewater bills, which means that the wastewater system is not being paid off and the debt is rising — up to $19,600 as of January.
There is currently pending litigation between RUSS and Mt. Union regarding this issue. Because of this litigation, Supervisor Chairman Gary See said he was going to temper his comments but told Marek that the county does not have a plan in regards to RUSS.
“We’re monitoring things as they occur, also,” said See.
See also emphasized to Marek that Henry County is only involved with RUSS because a past city council of Mt. Union asked the county to become involved so the city could have its wastewater system project completed.
“The irony is, you’re sitting here chastising us, and they begged us,” said See.
Marek replied that at that point in time, RUSS seemed like a good idea.
“We thought it was a good idea, but since then it’s gone downhill,” said Marek.
Recently there have been some counties that have expressed interest in leaving RUSS. Most recently, Mahaska County announced last week that it considers itself withdrawn from RUSS and will no longer be participating.
“Mahaska County has thrown down the gauntlet,” said Marek noting that Mahaska County’s move essentially stalls RUSS, as the 28E agreement requires unanimous agreement from all counties in RUSS to do any projects.
However, this also means that counties cannot leave RUSS without unanimous approval from the board. So far, Mahaska, Wapello and Davis Counties have expressed an interest in leaving. Whether or not they can leave is still up in the air. At the RUSS board meeting last week, Executive Director Bruce Hudson mentioned the possibility of a settlement rate, which Marek referred to Thursday morning as “extortion.”
Marek noted that if counties are able to leave RUSS, the remaining counties’ dues — which are currently $8,000 per year — and rates for the projects will probably increase to help cover RUSS’s expenses.
It would also likely raise rates for the residents of Mt. Union, Marek noted.
Previously, sewer bills had previously been $70-80 per month, but were recently lowered to around $57 per month.
“Mt. Union is afraid that once again we’re going to have $70-80 sewer bills,” said Marek. “It’s unfeasible. They would rather live in other communities.”
He noted that Mt. Union is unlikely to attract new residents, especially with such high sewer bills.
Marek said that if things with RUSS continue the way they are, the City of Mt. Union will need to file for bankruptcy and unincorporation.
In other business, the board of supervisors approved Taft-Wiley to work on the heating system at the DHS building on West Madison Street, Mt. Pleasant. Previously there was no heat in the basement of the building as it was not being used. Now that it is being used, there needs to be heat added.
This will cost $1,260, though there will be a partial reimbursement from the state.