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Officials don’t see eye to eye

Farmington mayor, county sanitary engineer at odds

WARREN — The mayor of West Farmington and Trumbull County’s sanitary engineer are at odds.

The cause of the tension appears to be several issues on which the two do not see eye to eye.

Mayor Shirley McIntosh said she’s been made to feel as if West Farmington is “needy, greedy, and ungrateful,” and said there are outstanding issues with county projects in the village. She also doesn’t care for sanitary engineer Gary Newbrough’s stance that the county should use COVID-19 relief dollars for county driven-projects, instead of distributing it to local governments for their requested utility projects.

In September, Newbrough said he would prefer to see the American Rescue Plan funds spent on sewer and water projects within the county’s utility districts, or on projects that offer regional benefits to multiple, participating communities.

McIntosh, during a commissioners meeting, said she believes it is a “conflict” to consider only projects for the county’s ARP funds driven by the county’s sanitary engineer department.

Newbrough said the county projects needed for the sanitary sewer and water district should not be in competition with other government entities that received their own ARP allocations.

“Each government entity in the county was given an ARP allocation based on population, demographics, that sort of thing, every village, every city, even every township as far as I know got some sort of allocation and the county just happened to get the largest one. Now, are we asking any of the other entities for their ARP funds? We’re not. These funds are for our projects,” Newbrough said.

Newbrough contends it will ultimately be up to county commissioners to determine how the $38 million in American Rescue Plan funds are spent, regardless of his opinion.

“…that is completely under the jurisdiction of the commissioners,” he stated in an email.

McIntosh stated in an email that the village submitted a project requesting $250,000 in county ARP funds for an $800,000 project that “would be beneficial to a large portion of unsewered area in Trumbull County.”

The county should provide some of the funds to match other funding requests communities like hers are making to larger entities, like the state, McInsosh said. She said the “clock is ticking” on outstanding funding requests that may have a better chance of getting state dollars with a commitment from the county, she stated in an email.

“All taxpayers in Trumbull County will be paying the taxes for that windfall, not just those within (county water and sewer districts) and to exclude entities outside of (county) water and sewer districts screams unfair. I have had my fill of being treated and portrayed like West Farmington is needy, greedy, and ungrateful,” she said.

BLUEPRINT

The two also disagree about a long-lauded $15 million Blueprint to Prosperity Waterline Initiative Project, which brought water service in 2019 to rural communities in Braceville, Southington, Farmington and West Farmington, and benefitted from a large loan forgiveness program through the Ohio EPA — clearing 75 percent of the cost.

McIntosh said there is a “punch list” of items “not installed” to design specifications, that hasn’t been addressed.

Newbrough said all of the “punch list” items have been addressed.

A “punch list” includes final restoration items to be performed after a walk through inspection after the majority of construction is complete, Newbrough states in an email.

He provided an email from Burgess and Niple Inc., the engineering firm that worked on the project.

The email states the engineer, Newbrough, and Mike McIntosh drove “the entire village and created a master list of all restoration punch-list items.” Then, the items were addressed over a two-to-three-day period in September of 2020, with a representative on-site to witness the work, the email states. Later, another drive through was conducted and no issues were raised, the email states.

McIntosh said she tried to schedule a meeting four times with Newbrough to follow up on the issue, but he hasn’t been responsive.

In a November email to Newbrough requesting the meeting, she states: “I do not agree with closing out this project until (the village’s) punch list items are taken seriously, instead of being completely ignored by Mr, Newbrough.”

In an email response addressed to McIntosh, Newbrough states: “Your husband (drove the territory of) the project with Tim Antos of Burgess & Niple and agreed the punch list was satisfied. I’ve always demonstrated nothing but respect for you and other village officials and Trumbull County went above and beyond the call of duty to complete the water improvements within the Village of West Farmington. For you to accuse me of making false statements and to say that no punch list items were addressed is preposterous.”

McIntosh contends the Blueprint project was only possible because of the village.

“The poor status of our water treatment plant helped push the funding application for the project up the food chain and into the principal forgiveness category and is the reason for the ‘sweet’ funding deal that the county got to fund the Blueprint (project) — 75 percent principal forgiveness and 0 percent interest with 40 years to payback,” McIntosh states in an email.

Newbrough stated in an email to McIntosh that the village’s water system was in massive disrepair and because of the way the project was designed, the village received $3 million for their water system without having to raise rates or dip into village funds.

“Basically, they received all these improvements for free,” his email states.

It continues: “For some reason, you still make derogatory comments about the project. The county transformed the village’s obsolete, leaky, barely functional and, most of all, mismanaged and neglected public water system, into a modern state-of-the-art public water system that has resulted in a significant reduction to your operation and maintenance costs. Furthermore, no capital improvements will probably be needed for at least the next 10-20 years.”

McIntosh acknowledges the system was in a great state of disrepair, and the village was only billing for 38 percent of the water it was treating. She said she inherited it that way and it was “hemorrhaging and on life support.”

Newbrough said the village owes $20,000 on its water bill. McIntosh said the village is all caught up, “sans the exorbitant late fees.”

“The late fees and the unaddressed punch list items are now under review by the village’s solicitor and we will proceed following his advice to get these issues resolved,” she states in an email.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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