Elections, lawsuits and RUSS
The year was a tumultuous one for the Washington County Board of Supervisors. The board will see three new members join its ranks in January. Bob Yoder, Jack Seward Jr. and Stan Stoops won their general election races in November and will assume the seats vacated by Wes Rich, Jim Miksch and Adam Mangold, respectively.
The Richmond sewer project was a hot button issue during the 2012 political campaigns and at the supervisor meetings. In the fall, the supervisors learned they will have to spend another $75,000 on planning and design for the Richmond sewer system because the $193,000 allotted had run out.
At a meeting earlier this month, the supervisors approved an agreement which required the county to reimburse Regional Utility Service Systems (RUSS) $193,000 if the county had not issued a project note for the Rubio Sewer by Dec. 31, 2012.
Residents for a Better Richmond (RBR), which sued the county in 2011 over the proposed Richmond sewer, dismissed its own lawsuits in June after Yoder and Seward won their respective primary races.
However, RBR filed another lawsuit against the county in November pertaining to an amendment to a 28E agreement between RUSS and the county. RBR argued that the county could not enter into a loan agreement that incurs indebtedness to the general fund.
One of the first things the supervisors did in 2012 was appoint a county auditor. Former auditor Bill Fredrick announced in 2011 that he would step down at the end of January 2012 and that the county would have to find a replacement. The supervisors interviewed five candidates and ultimately chose Dan Widmer.
Widmer was up for election in November after serving in the position for less than a year. He won the uncontested election easily.
Another significant issue on the supervisors’ plate this past year was funding for mental health services. At a supervisors’ meeting in June, Washington County Mental Health Disability Services division director Bobbie Wulf said she was not sure how mental health would be funded in 2013. She said the Legislature wants to move toward regional mental health services rather than put each county in charge of its own mental health.
Supervisor Ron Bennett said he was glad the board was able to keep the budget from growing much this year. He said he was pleased at the progress on secondary roads, a project the county started last year.
Bennett said 2013 figures to be an exciting year. He said the three newly elected supervisors have talked about rescinding zoning and opposing the lagoon in Richmond. He said it will be interesting to see how those two proposals play out.
Supervisor Steve Davis said the Richmond sewer took up the most time of any issue throughout the year.
“I’m sure it will be a major issue next year,” Davis said. “I think it needs to continue on so we can get the project done. We need to get Richmond taken care of.”
Davis said the uncertainty of mental health reorganization is a lurking problem that cropped up this year and will rear its head again next year. He said regional mental health centers could include seven counties, although if or how the state will fund the facilities is still up in the air.
Supervisor Wes Rich said he was pleased with the progress made on county roads, which was a project that was bonded for in 2010 and which began in 2011.
“That was a big accomplishment,” he said. “We have one more year left to get our bond money spent. Jacob [Thorius] is well on the way to accomplishing that. We need to keep our infrastructure up, to get our goods to and from the market. I think we made great strides in that.”
Rich also mentioned a few other positives from 2012, such as the remodeling of Building 1 at Orchard Hill, where HACAP will make its home as of January.
“We rented the county farm again for quite a bit more money,” Rich said. “All in all, everything was really positive.”
Supervisor Adam Mangold said he is pleased at the continuing growth and good business climate he sees in the county. Washington County’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent as of September, which was among the lowest in the region.
“There are a lot of things going on economically that are positive,” he said. “I hope the new board continues to take it in that positive direction and to work with the WEDG board and do positive things for Washington.”
Supervisor Jim Miksch said he was proud of the county engineers in how they responded when Washington and Keokuk County shared engineering services at the end of 2011 and into early 2012.
“It gave our engineers an opportunity to take on additional responsibilities,” Miksch said.
Miksch said he thought the board was able to work together well to find solutions to problems on the horizon.