WARREN - Trumbull County commissioners don't have the ability under Ohio law to waive connection fees charged to users of sanitary sewers, according to an opinion from the county prosecutor's office.
That's unhappy news to The Cafaro Co.
A spokesman for the mall and property developer says it's causing the company to re-evaluate plans to build a hotel and banquet / conference center near the rear of the Dillard's department store at the Eastwood Mall.
Cafaro spokesman Joe Bell said the company is disappointed with the prosecutor's position. He said the project isn't going anywhere but declined to elaborate on its future further than saying ''people dealing with the project will sit back and take a look again, as they do all the time.''
Commissioner Frank Fuda requested the prosecutor's office to weigh in on whether commissioners were allowed to waive the connection, or tap-in fee, as part of economic incentive.
The opinion was that commissioners don't have the authority.
The tap-in fees would be charged due to the expansion of the hotel and conference center at the mall, according to the opinion.
It also explains that to the best recollection of the Sanitary Engineer's Office, a tap-in fee has never been waived for any other party. A connection fee was paid when the mall was built and additional fees were collected when there was new or additional construction there, like the Target store and Eastwood Field, the opinion states.
In addition, waiving the fee might violate a requirement that sanitary funds cannot be spent other than for the ''use and benefit of the district.''
''Such an expenditure would appear to benefit one party, but at the expense of the district,'' the opinion states. ''In fact, should the capacity of the treatment plant be insufficient, the remainder of the district would bear an increased cost to offset any waiver of fees for a private entity.''
The tap-in is said to be around $45,000 to $50,000.
The prosecutor's opinion offers to request an opinion from the Ohio Attorney General's Office if the board still would like to waive the connection fee, despite the prosecutor's findings.
Dan Polivka said doing so could be worthwhile, if not in this instance, but to help guide the county in the future regarding incentive packages for economic development.
As for the current issue, he's hoping The Cafaro Co. will continue with the project and he would examine alternative incentives, like potentially lessening the tap-in fee rather than wiping it away.
''I understand where they are coming from, but don't fully agree with it either,'' Polivka said.
Fuda said he did not have chance to review the opinion, released Monday. Commissioner Paul Heltzel could not be reached for comment.