County on wrong side in sewer cases

Trumbull County should not have appealed adverse rulings in two sewer installation cases. Instead, state lawmakers should rewrite Ohio’s rules to treat these situations more fairly.

Ohio law forces homeowners near a new sewer line to tie into that line whether or not they have a functional septic system. While we question the wisdom of that law, we’ll save further discussion for a future editorial.

It’s more the details, nuances and interpretations of that law which contain inherent unfairness highlighted in the two recent Trumbull County lawsuits.

In one case, a Vienna couple could not raise the $48,765 to pay for lines in front of three parcels they own. The county decided it would collect the payment over 20 years, with interest, driving the cost to $76,852. Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay ruled that there is no provision in Ohio law allowing for the interest charges.

In the other case, Magistrate Anne Aurilio ruled in favor of homeowners in Mineral Ridge where a private party installed a sewer and the county agreed to collect from homeowners to reimburse the private party. Aurilio ruled that the homeowners were denied due process, were not notified of the cost, were charged questionable fees and being ordered to pay for a project that the county did not properly oversee.

Assistant county prosecutor Jim Brutz’s comment that sanitary sewer installation in Trumbull County would cease to exist because of these decisions is a tremendous overstatement. Sanitary sewer projects should not be impacted at all. The rulings simply bring fairness to the process.

For example, when somebody other than the government orders the work, it’s unreasonable for a homeowner to have no say in who installs a sewer on his or her property, how much the person will charge for installing the sewer, how the installer will design the work or what materials will be used. It’s unreasonable for homeowners to incur bills in the tens of thousands of dollars without an opportunity to review competitive bids. It’s unreasonable for a homeowner to have no recourse if a neighbor could work out a deal with a friend who is a contractor and force the neighbors to pay the bill.

The process has considerably more transparency when the government initiates the sewer project.

Creating a process that allows those who pay to have a say in their investment brings fairness to sewer installations. Creating fairness will not put an end to sanitary sewer projects.