Withdrawl From RUSS Ongoing For Mahaska County
Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County Supervisors met in closed session to discuss legal matters concerning Mahaska County’s desire to be removed from RUSS (REGIONAL UTILITY SERVICE SYSTEM).
Arbitration had been initiated back in September of 2013 when not only Mahaska, but also Wapello County was seeking to remove itself from the organization. The arbitration is taking place because Mahaska County has signed a 28E agreement with the other counties involved in the utility. RUSS was designed and created in order for smaller communities to be able to provide sewer systems that may not otherwise have resources to make improvements.
In an earlier interview on the subject, Mahaska County Supervisor Mike Vander Molen explained the arbitration process. The arbitrators for both sides will work to find an amicable withdrawal, “terms that both parties can agree with,” says Vander Molen. “It’s not binding, so if we don’t like the terms we can just withdrawal from the arbitration.”
And those past obligations are an issue for the arbitration. What financial responsibility will the county have for past debt liabilities, in the event a project would go into default. “When Mahaska County was a member, what bonds are we going to still have to back, which ones won’t we. What fees are we still going to have to pay. We’re going to have to wrangle through all those issues,” says Vander Molen. The trick will be coming up with an agreement that is agreeable for both parties.
Mahaska County has not utilized any service from RUSS, and don’t foresee any need for the organization as the county’s rural communities are serviced, in large part, by Mahaska Rural Water.
At this point, RUSS is refusing to let Mahaska County out of the agreement. In the March 20th of 2013 meeting, the group voted 5-2 against Mahaska County’s request for withdrawal. Three members of the board were not present for that vote, including Mahaska County Supervisor Mike Vander Molen, who is the county’s representative on that board.
The cost for participation in RUSS has also continued to increase. Those initial costs have increased from a $1,000 administrative fee to $8,000 for the 2013 fiscal year. At that November of 2012 meeting when the increasing costs were announced, then Supervisor Ken Rozenboom moved that the county pay only $3,000 of that fee. It was passed 2-1, with Gordy being the dissenting vote.
The supervisors say they would be out as soon as possible if the RUSS Board would only let them out, but for now, the legal wrangling continues. For now, the board is making the county stay in RUSS, but there is precedent for a county to withdrawal, as both Davis and Lee Counties have accomplished that in the past.