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Courthouse Additions: Joint Meeting Commissioners and Council Mar 24, 2023, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Updated Mar 27, 2023

Joint Meeting Commissioners and Council Mar 24, 2023 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

This post at Brown County Matters

Purpose: Funding – Courthouse additions.

Good Meeting. An informative, productive, congenial, and at times humorous, meeting.  A wide variety of options and their pros and cons were discussed. (I wish this was more the norm on major investments like wastewater management/sewer expansions.)

Good Argument. Judge Wertz, the Sheriff, and the Baliff have made a good case for the additions with the priority for funding to be the Sally Port.  The Judge got a grant to fund the design/plan (70K). She has gotten other grants to fund the renovations.

Planning. The meeting reinforced the critical need for capital improvement planning and budgeting. This consists of identifying our assets (buildings) and the projected repair, replacement, and maintenance costs. Purpose is to prevent “surprise expenses” and budget the costs

Jim Kemp who has a finance background is also leading needed process improvements and longer-term planning that should help prevent future “fires.”   I am looking forward to the 2024 budget hearings that should reflect “lessons being learned.”

Courthouse Additions – Sally Port and Security Entrance.  Commissions may have the money to fund the project without the need for the council to approve.  In addition to the 500k that was budgeted, 254K can be used from the remaining balance in the capital improvement loan. Funds from the capital improvement loan may have been erroneously used to pay operating expenses associated with the ambulance contracts and may need to be reimbursed from other funds (300K or more).  If excess funds from existing accounts cannot be found, the commissioners will take out a loan.  The State Board of Accounts is providing a review of the capital improvement loan and expenditures.

Capital Improvement vs Operating Costs.

    • The council was aware that the commissioners were paying operating expenses with funds from the 3 million capital improvement loan. I questioned this practice and the former commissioners stated it was allowed. The county attorney was likely present on the phone.
    • Note the common practice at the time of the loan was for the commissioners to identify spending and the council operated under the principle that their job was to “approve” without question.  Consequently, any issues and lack of knowledge of the “total costs” in many cases led to “surprises.”

Courthouse Options. Everyone agreed the additions were needed. Previous major additions to the courthouse were rejected by the public via a remonstrance. The plan for a new “Justice Center” at 8-10 million was not well received.  Grant money was used to make some recent renovations and these new additions should meet the county’s needs in the foreseeable future.

Next Meeting. There will be a working meeting next Friday at 1:00 to work through the exact details and options regarding courthouse project funding. Council members, commissioners, the auditor, consultant from Baker-Tilly, and any interested members of the public.  A plan for how the county may be able to address the 1.3 million or more deficit in health benefits costs will also be discussed.

Project 46 Brown County Climate Change

project 46 climate

Updated Mar 24, 2023

Summary:  County elected officials are expected to join the Nashville Town Council and the mayors of Bloomington and Columbus in signing a  Resolution in support of the United Nations’ strategy for fighting climate change.

Audio – Climate Change Presentations

The Resolution includes a pledge from the county to provide funding of 50 cents per capita or $7,500 for Brown County, per year over the next three years.

Per the presenters, although the county’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gases may be small, Brown County can be part of a regional and global (U.N) initiative to prevent “the catastrophic effects of global warming.”   U.N Report:

    • Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health ( very high confidence ). There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence ). ”  U.N Report
    • “Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. ” U.N. Report

Among the benefits of the alliance are the expectations of federal funding for various projects.

Mar 24, 2023Project 46 – Southern Indiana Regional Climate Alliance Kick-off  Meeting- Nashville Town Hall (PDF of the announcement)  

United Nations Climate Change Report – Climate Changes 2023. © Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2023.

Mar 16, 2023. Opposing Perspective:  TUCKER CARLSON: Climate change experts’ bullying is not about helping the Earth, it is about controlling us.  Tucker shreds climate change ‘experts’ and their predictions, which have not held up well over time

Oct 6, 2022. Bloomington, IN.   First Regional Climate Convening Assembled To Discuss and Address Climate Change

County Council Meeting Notes – Mar 20, 2023. 6:00 – 9:00.

March 20, 2023 County Council Agenda

County Council Meeting Notes – Mar 20, 2023. 6:00 – 9:00.  A long meeting and unnecessarily contentious at times.  Council and commissioner recognized that a more amicable working relationship would be helpful.  Commissioners are the executives of the county and the council is responsible for managing the budget.

Capability. County finance and budgeting represent a system. The capability of a system can be assessed on a scale of 1-5.  The county system is about a 2 – “it works ” which includes  surprises and frustrations which can lead to contention. Little changes can be made to smooth things out.

Next Meeting – Friday March 24, 2023 6:00, Salmon Room.  Joint meeting of the council and commissioners to work through funding challenges and options that may include borrowing money.

Funding shortfall. Estimated deficit projected for June of -1, 350,145.00.  Jim Kemp completed an analysis on the state of the Health Fund. The recent changes to the benefit package prevented the deficit from being even higher. PDF – Kemp health fund deficit

A recurring problem. This (large deficit) happened a few years ago and the county borrowed an extra million to cover the over-budget operating expenses.  The ambulance contract was an example. The federal funding received over the past couple of years also helped pay for spending. The standing/recurring loan was increased from 2 to 3 million and the low interest on the loan kept the taxes about the same. Renewing the next loan will likely have a much higher interest rate and inflation will also have an impact leading to more cost for less service.

Courthouse Additions – Sally Port and Security Entrance. The commissioner’s financial consultant identified where $560,000 could be used from three accounts. This combined with the budgeted 500K would fund the projects. Gary Huett identified that it may be possible that design changes may help reduce the cost of construction.  A decision to approve the funding is needed by April 15.

Clerk’s Office. Info Technology Costs Increase. The clerk identified her need for more funding to support converting manual records to a digital format and transitioning to a new system. Council will create a committee to work through how these costs can be funded.

Operating Practices. The county has worked on a year-to-year basis in terms of budgeting. At least a 3-5 year plan is considered a better practice. The commissioners contract for a Financial Plan that typically is not referenced in meetings.  Updates on the planned costs vs actual can help prevent surprises and trends in revenue and expenses.

Anticipating Expenses. Significant expenses associated with health benefits, capital improvements, repairs, replacements, recurring leases, cars, IT, contracts, elections,, too often come as a surprise and can range in the hundreds of thousands. (AC units for the jail for example).  Many of these expenses can be expected and identified in a capital improvement plan and budget that fall under the responsibility of the commissioners.   Each department can also identify their unfunded requirements to help prevent surprises and identify these during the budget hearings.

County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study

BCRSD Strat Video

Updated Mar 20, 2023

This post and comments at Brown County Matters.

I encourage concerned citizens to view the Water Quality Study presentation. It is only 23 minutes.

The study itself is available in the appendix.

Unless county elected officials direct otherwise, no public meeting that would allow citizens to ask questions regarding the plan and study is scheduled. However, elected and appointed state and federal officials will respond to questions. Documentation regarding their respective project review and approval processes on the applications for funding, are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and can also be obtained by citizens.

BLUF. The scope of the proposed projects for the Bean Blossom Area is not supported by all the facts and other available information relevant to the issues.

Key Points

Water Quality and The Major source of E-coli. Despite claims to the contrary in the strategic plan, the water study identifies that E-coli from pastureland, “AND NOT” failing septic systems (the prevailing BCRSD narrative), is recognized as the major source of E-coli.

Not So!  Claim  (below) identified in the Wastewater Strategic Plan, April 2022, Executive Summary, pg iv. BCRSD Stratggy Overview E-coli

Conflicting position – Watershed Study:

    • There were 22 total samples. Of the five (5) samples that tested high for human-caused E.coli, only two BB10, BB12, exceeded the state standard. (Figure 28, pg. 64.)
    • It was stated that samples detected pharmaceutical and hair care products indicating human contamination. However ….
      • Regarding the detection of pharmaceuticals in the water, this topic was covered in the Brown County Democrat – STREAM SAMPLING: Where’s the contamination coming from? By Sara Clifford – 1/28/20. The information included in the article states: “The highest detections in surface waters are often associated with municipal wastewater treatment plant outfalls.” Would this be true for functioning septic systems as well, e.g., an effective septic system will not treat pharmaceuticals?
    • Figure 33 details that pastureland loads more E.coli to Brown County streams than other sources under all modeled septic failure modeling scenarios. Only if 100% of documented septic system failures are failing do they contribute a significant volume of E.colito the entirety of Brown County.”
      • Note: There are no documented failures and a “significant volume” is not the majority (see graph below).

Watershed Study – Model
Sources of E-Coli: Yellow Pasteurland; Green – septic systems

bcrsd e-coli source sampling

This conclusion has been a consistent finding in studies from throughout the State. Only “5” water samples in the targeted area identified the majority of E-coli as being human-caused. No additional analysis was provided as to how many septic systems may be contributing to the problem in these areas. Per the Pareto principle, 80% of the problems could be due to 20% of the causes supporting more cost-effective solutions.

    • Lake Monroe Watershed
      • E-coli levels in all the 2020 Lake Monroe samples were well below the state standard of 235 CFU/100 ml (CFU = colony forming units of bacteria). …. The South Fork (Jackson County) sub-watershed appears to be the largest contributor of E. coli.
    • Indiana Water Quality 
      • In a recent report, “the major cause” of E-coli IS NOT due to the possibility of failed septic system – it’s agricultural runoff from industries that are in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. “IDEM said combined sewer overflows, untreated stormwater and wastewater that discharges to nearby streams, rivers and other water bodies were the largest sources of E. coli bacteria, one of the impairments cited to the EPA.”
      • Mar 31, 2022. Indiana ranks highest in nation for miles of polluted waterways, report finds
      • “According to the report, a major contributor to water pollution is manure and fertilizer runoff from farms. This causes the concentration of E. coli and nutrients that promote bacterial growth in waterways. “
      • Watershed Coordinator Maggie Sullivan, who works at the nonprofit Friends of Lake Monroe, said Lake Monroe suffers from nutrient contamination. Lake Monroe also has streams that feed into the lake which have elevated levels of E. coli, but levels in the lake are well below state standards. “Our biggest concern right now is harmful algal blooms,” Sullivan said. 
  • Records and Useful Life of a Septic System. The video also identifies what is “speculated”  to be an “average useful life” of a septic system along with the lack of records in the Health Department, to conclude that an “estimated” 76% (2,200 systems) need repair or replacement. No documentation of inspections by the Health Department of the suspected properties was referenced to support the claim as to inadequate systems.
    • Was the “estimated” not documented failure rate overstated to influence the modeling (see above graph)?
    • Sweetwater Lake. (Watershed Study, pg. 26). “There are 550 homes around Sweetwater Lake, which represent the largest concentration of residential septic systems in the watershed.  “Failures”  were identified as being caused by “abuse, lack of maintenance, or grandfathered installations.”  No evidence of any “significant threats to water quality resulting from septic systems.”
    • Note that “potential” for problems was identified but nothing to indicate existing septic management practices would not continue to be effective.
    • Of the 550 homes, what would the BCRSD estimate to be the failure rate given “available records” and “useful life.”

Indefinite Useful Life. Conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” (EPA 932-F-99-075). Presby Systems has also identified that a well-designed and maintained system can have an indefinite life. The county is flexible in approving Presby systems to accommodate site-related challenges that support repairs/replacements for existing homes. Pump and Haul is another approved option in some circumstances. A non-statistically valid survey with 113 responses was referenced as supporting the need for repairs/replacements of the existing system. It is unknown if needed actions may have already been completed.

Soils. The water study also identifies that county soils are “very limited in their ability to drain and treat the wastewater produced by a septic system. The State of Indiana has identified the criteria for soils and requires soil testing before a septic permit is granted by the county. I assume the county is in compliance with State guidance and statutes. This fact as to indefinite life is not referenced in the study.   Presby Systems (approved by the State and County), identify that their septic systems “treat wastewater before it is released into the ground and claim their “technology removes up to 98% of wastewater contaminants, recycling clean water into the environment and recharging natural water supplies.”

Economic RISK to Residents. It is unknown at this time if the BCRSD can identify (now or at a future date) a  higher standard for approving septic permits than what is allowed by the State and county. Given the relative power of an RSD that includes making decisions independent of elected officials, the allegations by the BCRSD regarding soils and the useful life of a septic system should be clearly documented and posted on the main page of the county website. The purpose is to prevent/mitigate any possible class-action lawsuits so that existing and prospective new residents can be aware of the potential risks posed by the BCRSD associated with owning property in Brown County.

Additional Comments

Helmsburg and Lake Lemon Corridor. The justification of sewer service in Helmsburg west to Lake Lemon is supported with valid justifications to include community support.

Bean Blossom Corridor. I continue to question the assumptions, data, and level of analysis used to support the scope of “solutions” identified for the Helmsburg and east to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake corridor.

Economic Development. The intent for providing sewer service in the Bean Blossom area has always included the desire by a few for economic development. This has been reinforced by elected officials and the current BCRSD Board president, who has acknowledged his commercial interests in the area. Economic development-related analysis to include any adverse effects on the low to moderate-income level residents was not covered within the scope of the current projects.

Conclusion.  I would encourage concerned citizens to review the videos. The published plan and study provide the supporting detail. A public hearing is required before the applications for project funding are submitted. The RSDs have to allow for citizen input at the hearings. Input can be ignored. The Hearing is recorded which will provide more testimony to be considered by state and federal officials.

Commissioner Meeting Notes: Wed, March 15, 2023

Updated Mar 16, 2023

Commissioner Meeting Notes, Wed Mar 15, 2023. 6:00 p.m.  Audio of the meeting (25 minutes).

This post with any comments at the Facebook group –  Brown County Matters.

Courthouse Additions – Sally Port and Security Entra.m.nce.  The commissioner’s financial advisor from Baker -Tilley identified the additional funds needed (550K) to support these projects. The county previously budgeted 500K.  More details on the source of funds will be presented at next week’s County Council Meeting on Monday, March 20,  6:30 p.m., Salmon Room, County Office Building, 201 Locust Lane.

Indian Hill Railroad Crossing.  Matt Pierce, Indiana House of Representatives, reinforced his statement and correspondence provided last year that legislators would provide the support – needed (including legislation), to re-open the crossing to pedestrian traffic.  This provides access to the Tecumseh Trail. He stated that any claims as to 140K or more in costs for signage/signals were overstated. Commissioners directed the county legal council to contact Representative Pierce to discuss options.

    • History on the “closing.” Part 1: Closure – Railroad Crossing – Indian Hill Rd
    • Commissioners have acknowledged that they made a mistake, were not aware that the closing would impact access to the Tecumseh Trail, and that a public hearing should have been conducted. There is no history of accidents at the crossing.
    • Commissioners have expressed no interest in re-opening the crossing to include vehicle traffic. This option may require legal action by citizens. Commissioner Pittman acknowledged (in the presence of legal counsel), that a public hearing was required, so the scope and cost of any legal action by citizens, may be feasible through crowd-funding efforts. If the decision was illegal and ruled as such, I assume the commissioners would have to have a new public hearing to keep the crossing closed. Legal action, if this includes depositions,  may lead to the source of the motivation for the closing of the crossing.

Audio – Remarks by Matt Pierce begin at 16:00

Peaceful Valley Heritage.  Vivian Wolf of the PVH asked for commissioner support the posting of signs with QR Codes to promote our history.  Signs would include locations at the overlooks and covered bridge to promote our history supported with self-guided driving tours.

Highway Department – Road Paving Plan – 2026.  Commissioners to post on the county website.  The plan was first presented last October and has recently been updated.

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board Meeting Notes, Tues Mar 14, 2023.

Updated Mar 15, 2023

Meeting Announcement and comments – posted at Brown County Matters

Audio of the meeting

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board Meeting Notes, Tues Mar 14, 2023. Location Jackson VFD – Helmsburg.

Next Joint Meeting with Helmsburg RSD –  28 March  2023, 6:00 p.m. Brown County Community Foundation – lower level.

Applications for Funding (Preliminary Engineering Reports (PERs). Both boards are expecting that their PERs will be completed by the Mar 28 meeting and be ready to submit for review to approval authorities.  Funding sources include the State Revolving Fund and USDA. The PERs provide include the “documented justification” for the projects.  May also include Letters of Support.  Another source of funds may be the Bilateral Infrastructure Funds.

    • A Public Hearing is required to present the PERs are required.  Dates TBD.  The foundation for the PERs is provided in the Brown County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Study that the BCRSD has refused to present at a public meeting.  These plans are available on their website.  Any questions can be asked at the public hearing on the PERs.
    • This BCRSD PER should include the documentation supporting the allegations and speculation regarding septic system failures, water quality, and adequacy of soils.
    • The SRF may not question the evidence that supports the justification of need but this may not be the case at the federal level.

Attendees. About 9 people from Lake Lemon attended the meeting.   Lake Lemon residents have been the most supportive of obtaining sewer service.

Community Awareness. BCRSD expects to place ads in the Democrat to raise awareness of their plans and website.

Needed Shift in Priorities.  The number one priority for the BCRSD was building a new sewer plant in Bean Blossom.  The PER for this project was submitted in 2018 and approved by the SRF. The project was considered a high priority.  The BCRSD requested that this project be kept on the priority list.

When the BCRSD failed to acquire land for a plant in Bean Blossom (the purpose for the 2018 PER), the scope of the project changed significantly. In addition to the Bean Blossom area, Helmsburg and areas west to Lake Lemon are now (not in 2018) included in the scope of this first phase.  The Helmsburg and the Lake Lemon areas have valid needs and the support of current and new customers.

Timeline.  Review by funding sources generally takes 30-90 days.  Feedback is expected around mid-summer and a formal commitment later in the year.   Construction cannot begin until 85% of needed easements are acquired (Per BLN contractor).  Not sure if this 85% is a state and/or federal standard.

Commissioner Meeting Notes, Mar 1, 2023

brown county govt

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

Commissioner Meeting Notes, Mar 1, 2023. Audio of the Meeting 

Post and comments at Brown County Matters

o. Indian Hill Railroad Crossing. 1:04.- 1:17. and 1:37:15. Commissioner Pittman confirmed (with the county’s legal advisor from Barnes and Thornburg (B&T) on zoom) that a Hearing was required before deciding to close the crossing to include access to the Tecumseh Trail and that the commissioners had made a mistake. A hearing requires a legal notice in the paper.   The commissioners can ask the county attorney for advice on the next steps needed to re-open the crossing.

    • FACT. The County did not have to close the crossing. The State would have supported the county’s decision to keep it open.  No evidence was presented by the Railroad regarding evidence of accidents, close calls, etc.   Commissioner Sanders stated he believed that despite the illegality of the closing, the county could not re-open the crossing.
    • Commissioner Sanders expressed his opinion that the commissioners would take no action unless new information was provided making the case to reverse the decision.
    • The Railroad “estimate” of costs for re-opening the road was grossly exaggerated and is inconsistent with other crossings.
    • The issue re-surfaced when the highway superintendent stated that a hearing was required in order for the county to vacate an ally.  This begged the question as to why a hearing was not required to close a railroad crossing.
    • Members of the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association (KHTA) were present at the meeting and reinforced that since the closing was illegal, the railroad likely has no legal recourse in re-opening the crossing.  The KHTA has asked that the crossing be re-opened to pedestrian traffic and provided a draft of an amendment that was provided to B&T for review.
    • History and Background Information on the topic: Part 1: Closure – Railroad Crossing – Indian Hill Rd

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) – County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study.  audio – 1:33:04.

    • In a follow-up to an email, I asked the commissioners to direct the BCRSD Board to hold a public meeting where citizens can ask questions of the authors of the plan and study. The Commissioners and Council have provided $570,000  dollars of taxpayer money to the BCRSD and have appointed members. The state via the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI) has provided over $100,000 to develop the plan which was supplemented with county funds.
    • Commissioner Pittman stated his support for communication and transparency AND the belief that the BCRSD Board members – although appointed by the Commissioners and Council, do not have to take direction from the elected officials that appointed them.  This is not an unusual position when elected officials want to distance themselves from decisions made by their appointees to boards, commissions, and committees.
    • Brown County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study.

Courthouse Additions – Sally Port and Security Entrance.

Update. Courthouse Additions.  The commissioners did renew their contract with the Baker-Tilly – the county’s financial advisor. The amount not mentioned.  BT thinks that the county has the additional funds (600K) needed for the courthouse additions. This topic to be an agenda item at the next council meeting.

Courthouse Additions include a Sally Port and Security Entrance. The low bid was $1,060,277. The county identified available funding at 500K.

Illegal and Open Burning. 34:00.  Representatives of the voluntary fire-fighter association identified the need for a more specific and enforceable ordinance for illegal and open burning. Commissioner  Pittman asked B&T to provide guidance regarding what needs to be done to improve the ordinance.

Highway Department Five-year plan (2026). The plan was updated. Commissioner Pittman asked again for this plan to be posted to the Highway Department website which Magnor said he would do.  It will be available at the following:

Resident Complaint (Nate Nichols) – 1:17: 30 excess clearing of trees (hundreds) by the highway department.  Commissioners believed that legal action was implied and chose not to discuss the issue.

Joint Meeting Sewer Boards, Feb 28, 2023

we the people declaration and flag

Joint Meeting – Notes – Helmsburg  (HRSD) and Brown County (BCRSD) Regional Sewer District Boards, Feb 28, 2023.   Audio 53 minutes.

THE MESSAGE?  The message from the BCRSD Board can be perceived to be “Don’t buy, live in  or sell any property in Brown County that is not or cannot be hooked on to a sewer system.”   The basis for this allegation (message) endorsed by the BCRSD Board is that 100% of county soils are not suitable for septic systems and 70% of septic systems in the county are failing.  Reference: Feb 14, 2023 Board meeting notes and audio.

    • This “message” is contradicted by state and county policy, practices, and documentation. The state has identified acceptable criteria for the condition of soils before a septic permit is granted. The county has the flexibility to accommodate conditions for needed repairs and site limitations.
    • The EPA has concluded that  “conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” (EPA 932-F-99-075). Presyby Systems have also stated that their septic systems can also have an indefinite life.

PRESENTATION  of the Brown County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study. There is no current plan by the BCRSD Board to present (and defend) “their” plan and study to citizens at a public meeting.  This would allow the public to ask questions of the authors of the plan and study.  I have asked our commissioners and council to direct the BCRSD to provide this presentation at a public meeting – stay tuned.

COSTS. $60 Million for about  800 customers and costs are expected to most likely increase before any construction begins.  A Regionalization Study in 2020 for providing sewer service in the Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake corridor was estimated at 30 Million.  BCRSD Phase I total costs are $39 million (rounded) that include the following:

    • West of Helmsburg:  $24.8 million, 475 users. Helmsburg to Lake Lemon.
    • East of Helmsburg: $14 million, 219 customers  (Bean Blossom to Woodland Lake)

HRSD Phase 1 Costs include:

    • $5 million to replace the failing current plant. There are 61 customers currently. There is potential to add another 7-23 customers within the expanded HRSD territory.
    • $15 Million to expand the plant to accommodate the new customers provided by the BCRSD. The total number of new customers to be served is  694.

A Map of the area to be covered in Phase I  is available and posted to the BCRSD website.  The monthly rate of customers was estimated (2018)  in the $65-85 range. Helmsburg customers now are paying $92.50 a month. A rate study for the monthly costs to be charged to customers is being developed for the HRSD and BCRSD.


Helmsburg to Lake Lemon. Estimated costs are $44.8 million. The Helmsburg plant replacement and upgrades supporting service to Lake Lemon should be the funding priority. This area has a valid and documented need, e.g., an aging plant, 200 failing systems in flooding conditions, and high monthly costs for current customers ($92.50). There is also documented support from new customers.

Bean Blossom. The need in the area East of Helmsburg to include Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake is circumstantial. Justification is based on the belief that 100% of soils are bad, an assumption that 70% of systems are failing and there are no other alternatives other than sewer hook-up.  Allegations are derived from the estimated age of systems and availability of records. Water samples indicate that “some” systems may be failing. Records were not required prior to 1978. The soil testing requirement was added later (90s?).

EVERYONE ELSE?  The BCRSD estimated that there are over 8,000 septic systems in the county. Phase I includes less than 800 customers, “New” developments may increase the customer base in the area covered by Phase 1.  Asset management plans are now being required by the State and will help identify the expected increase in costs to customers as a result of future costs expected for maintenance, repairs, and replacement.

It is a fact that “some” septic systems installed before the newest standards and technology were developed may not be providing a “perfect level” of treatment or be in compliance with current policies. And, based on the installation date (before 1978), citizens were not required to have records on file or conduct soil testing prior to installation.  The county health department has identified acceptable soil standards and expected levels of septic system performance for repair/replacement options for existing homes.

ANALYSIS OF ALTERNATIVES. The BCRSD Board has not shared any analysis of alternatives regarding repair/replacement options of existing systems with the public or its elected leaders. A “one-size-fits-all” solution is the only one that has been shared with the public.

NEXT MEETING. The final drafts of the Preliminary Engineering Reports (PERs) that will include the final drafts of the estimated costs, are expected to be completed by April 1, 2023. These will be discussed at a joint meeting on March 28, 2023, 6:00 p.m. at the Brown County Community Foundation – lower level. Public Hearings will be required before the PERs are approved by the state for consideration of funding.

SOILS. As mentioned above, the BCRSD Board has supported the allegation that 100% of the soils in Brown County are not suitable for septic systems. This is in contrast to State statute and policy that requires soil testing. The county policy continues to approve the installation of new systems when testing indicates that the soils are suitable.

Failing Systems?  Note that by state and county policy, failing systems are required to be repaired or replaced. Pump and haul is also an option that allows residents to remain in their homes. The county Health Department has not identified any documented evidence of wide-scale failures. Water sampling does indicate that some septic systems may be failing. The number of these systems has not been identified.

Mike Leggins President of the BCRSD has acknowledged his commercial interests in expanding sewer service in Bean Blossom. He continues to state his opinion that 70% or more of septics in the county are failing.

Council Meeting Notes – Feb 20, 2023, Internal Controls

Council Meeting Notes – Feb 20, 2023  Agenda

Keywords: Internal Controls, PACE, Centerstone, Medical Costs

Financial Oversight. . Jim Kemp provided a short presentation on Internal Controls, property assessments, and property taxes,  the trend in health insurance costs over the past 10 years, and the need for county offices to help assess the impacts of the proposed expansion of sewers.  He will provide monthly updates to include the status of our finances and controls.

Internal Controls. The States internal control guidance is intended to result helping to ensure the efficient and effective use of all tax dollars. These controls include the requirement for an asset management (capital improvement) plan.

Property Taxes. Increases in assessed values (a good thing) do not necessarily result in higher property taxes. County “SPENDING” determines the amount to be collected. For instance, if assessed values doubled but spending stayed the same, the amount of property taxes needed to be collected would be the same. HOWEVER, some property assessments may decline and some may be assessed higher than others which would account for any increases. NOTE also that residents may receive higher assessments every year but not some businesses. The requirement is that ALL properties get assessed (visited) at least once every four years.

      • (Note also there would be variation between contractors on how properties are assessed. For instance, If we had 10 different contractors providing the assessments, we would get 10 different answers. What we do not know is how the assessments would vary. Think bell-shaped curve. The last time I checked with the State, our increase in assessed values in the county matched the average increase of the other counties.

Health Insurance. Costs have averaged $1.8 million a year over the past 10 years. Costs exceeded budget last year at over 700K. Handout:  Group Medical Costs

Expansion of Sewers in the County. The “BCRSD” County Wastewater Strategic Plan which supports funding for new projects exceeding 30 million, HAS NOT BEEN  presented to the elected officials at a public meeting.  Kemp suggested that county offices such as the APC, Assessor, Auditor, and RDC get involved in helping to identify the cultural and socio-economic related impacts of the strategy on our citizens.

Note the County Comprehensive Plan by statute, should represent the desires of the citizens regarding what they want and do not want in terms of development and quality of life. The current plan has been kept vague where a good argument can be made for or against a respective project. Commissioners are responsible for the Plan that is administered by the Area Plan Commissioner (APC) and Board Zoning Appeals (BZA).

Centerstone – Bronw County Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences (PACE) initiative. Council agreed to pledge/leverage the funds received from the States Opioid Settlement to support an application for additional grant money. CenterStone PACE

BCRSD Board Meeting Notes, Tues Feb 14, 2023 County Sewer Plan

we the people declaration and flag

Updated Feb 24, 2023

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board Meeting Notes, Tues Feb 14, 2023. Location Jackson VFD – Helmsburg.

This post and comments at Brown County Matters. Feb 20 2023 Email to Commissioners and Council – Oversight Responsibilities

  • Part 1 Business Meeting. Audio 24 minutes
  • Part 2 – Discussion. This started after the business meeting ended.   Audio – 30 minutes

Admin Notes – Background Info

    • Board Members: Mike Leggins (President), Clint Studabaker (VP/Project Lead), Phil LeBlanc, Richard Hall, Matt Hanlon.  (LeBlanc and Hanlon not present). Hall not present for part 2 of the meeting.
    • Next meeting. Feb 28, 2023. Joint meeting of the Helmsburg and Brown County RSD. Location TBD.  The map that identifies phases and coverage areas is expected to be ready to distribute to the public.
    • Meeting Announcement. The state requires public announcements of public meetings 48 hours in advance. Announcements including date/time/location should be posted at the location of the meeting. If locations vary, the announcement could be posted at the county office building. In addition, announcements can also be shared with the local paper and provided at the BRCRD Facebook page and website.
    • BCLN. The aim for our system of government (a Constitutional Republic) with rights granted by the creator, is to work together towards a “more perfect” union and county.  This requires that you ask citizens how they define more perfect and the information they need to determine if any change results in improvement. Methods for supporting this aim are provided through the Brown County Leader Network.
    • Guidance on Making and Defending an Argument (aka critical thinking).
    • Service Life of a septic system?  A report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that “conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” (EPA 932-F-99-075). The Presby Corporation has also identified a similar finding: “If the system is designed, installed and maintained properly, there is no limit to the life expectancy of Enviro-Septic Technology.”  GUEST OPINION: More evidence needed that sewers necessary by Tim Clark
Suggest listening to the audio – Part 2. (Link below – some profanity). Board members present were Studabaker and Leggins. To his credit, Studabaker was very clear regarding his agenda on replacing septic systems with sewers throughout the county. His bias, passion (some might call zealotry),  and oversight on the development of the strategic plan and water quality study raise some doubt about the independence and objectivity of the reports.   Further, not holding a public meeting where citizens can ask questions of the consultants can further undermine any confidence citizens may have in the BCRSD Board and their consultants/contractors.
    • Soils. Studabaker contradicted state policy on soils. He stated that 100% of Brown County Soils are not conducive to septic systems.  The state has identified the accepted criteria for soils and requires soil sampling before the county grants a septic permit.  The response by the contractor developing the Preliminary Engineering Report (PDER) was that this situation was similar to the federal government’s tobacco issue where the federal government subsidized tobacco farmers that produced a product that was detrimental to health.
    • The implications?  That residents with septic systems are polluting the environment and breaking the law????    What effect (sales/re-sales) will this operating assumption have on existing and newer homes that may never be within an area supported by sewers?  Should the “county” (if legal) put a freeze on all new septic permits and require a shift to pump and haul?  Should the county lobby the state to correct its policies on Soils?  Should residents and visitors be informed about potential environmental hazards?  Or better yet, why not confirm the assumptions with the State along with independent and objective analysis before pushing personal agendas?  

Priority.  Phase I of the current project (Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom Area was estimated at $30 million in 2020 as part of a Regionalization Study.   The documented and valid need (aging plant, failing systems) for sewer service is the Helmsburg to Lake Lemon Corridor. This should be the priority for immediate funding and construction and has the support of the new customer base and Monroe county.

The BCRSD could not obtain land from citizens for a new plant in the Bean Blossom area. Thus  the need to rely on the new/expanded Helmsburg plant. It has been estimated that the BCRSD  needs 190 easements in the Bean Blossom area from a customer base that may not be supportive of the project.  Any need to evoke eminent domain to acquire an easement may be problematic.

Another motivation for expanding sewers is development supported by the core leadership of the local Republican party. I define core leadership as those that identify policy (formal or informal), speak out at public meetings in support of new development projects, and have an influence over the selection of candidates and appointees for offices. Brown County has a one-party monopoly on political power which can undermine the needed checks and balances on power.

RSD Power. Further, the BCRSD Board and its policies are independent of county elected officials whose power is limited to appointments and providing any requested funding.  The major funding comes from the state and the feds.  The power granted to an RSD and its potential abuse should be concerning to all. For instance, an RSD can force a hook-up. In Helmsburg and Gnaw Bone, hookups are voluntary.

Audio and Meeting Notes

Audio – two parts.  Part 1 was the meeting and Part 2 was the follow-on discussion by two members of the Board (Studabaker and Leggins) and two members of the public – Jacob Adams and myself (Tim J. Clark).  The discussion was insightful, informative, and heated at times.

    • Part 1 Business Meeting. Audio 24 minutes.
      • The meeting starts with a discussion and approval of invoices. Some discussion at the end on the steps needed before construction begins.  One of the requirements is a public hearing.  The map that identifies the phases of the project and areas to be supported may be available on Feb 28 where it will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Helmsburg and Brown County RSD Boards.
    • Part 2 – Discussion. This started after the meeting ended.   Audio – 30 minutes
      • Strategic Plan and Water Study. Studabaker confirmed there would be no public meetings on the Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study where the public could ask questions of the authors of these studies.  Any questions can be sent to Studebaker who stated he would provide a response.  These studies cost over $100,000 – the majority from grants provided by ROI via the State and included some matching funds from the county.
      • Elected Officials. Commissioners and Council have also not been briefed on the Strategy at a Public Meeting. The scope of the plan is not addressed in the County Comprehensive Plan which represents the voice of the citizenry.
      • 30 Million Plus. The Sewer Projects represent the largest investment in county history. The commissioners/council have provided over 570K to the BCRSD.
      • Cost effective Options.  Discussion included concerns on the scope of the project (30 million plus) and consideration of other options that would have less of a financial burden on citizens.
      • Costs to customers can include hook-up costs (over 1,000?), monthly service fees (65.00 -85.00?) and possibly monthly fees during construction. The life-cycle maintenance costs that will increase, will be another added cost.
      • Other Options?  Helping people repair and replace existing systems that may be inadequate.  Pump and Haul is an option allowed by State law.
      • County Gentrification?  Given a low to moderate income level at 53.1%, (2017 study), the additional costs may be a burden to many forcing them to sell.
      • Development Interest. The desire of the few to promote the expansion of sewers to support commercial and residential development was also mentioned and briefly discussed.
      • E-Coli.  Animal/Land (the majority) and Human caused. Brief discussion on the need for better livestock management and fertilizers practices. Some failing septic systems may also be a contributor.  The number of failing systems contributing to the problem is unknown.
    • Failing Systems?  Mike Leggins stated that 75% of septic systems are failing. He has no evidence that supports his statement.  The prior two board presidents acknowledged that they had no data identifying failing systems. I suggested that if he was sure of his assessment, the BCRSD should initiate inspections and obtain a warrant if necessary.  it may be most unlikely that a judge would find probable cause on speculation and anecdotes.
    • Soils and State policy.  As stated above, Studebaker has contradicted state policy and stated 100% of soils in Brown County are not conducive to septic systems. Yet, the state identifies soil-related requirements along with soil testing before a new septic permit is approved by the county. No mention that the county has a significant issue with not being able to provide septic permits.  No documented direct evidence of failing systems.
    •  Studebaker references the lack of septic records. Per Leggins, records and permits not required prior to 1978 and policies were not consistently enforced.  Information is not available on how systems may have been repaired or replaced over time.
    • Studabaker referenced a  report by the state on enteric disease but these state reports do not identify a cause which would include eating and drinking contaminated food and water.  (17:09).

A Way Ahead — Elected Officials

The statements, actions, positions, attitudes, and beliefs expressed by Clint Studabaker could be considered as an opportunity to review/revisit the value expected from the BCRSD board and its appointed board members.  The overall situation also warrants more oversight from “elected” representatives from the board of commissioners and council that could include attendance at every BCRSD board meeting.   At a minimum, a public meeting on the presentation of the County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study by the contractors is critical in informing the public on the premise of major changes that will affect their quality of life. The plan and study provide the foundation for the applications for funding (PERs).

PER/APPLICATIONS FOR FUNDING. The target date for the Preliminary Engineering Reports (PER) developed for the Helmsburg and Bean Blossom expanded area is March 31, 2023. A PER (which is required for funding) does require a public hearing. Councilmen and Commissioners should plan on being present.  The council and commissioners can also take a formal vote at one of their meetings in support or opposition to the scope and direction of the BCRSD board, its wastewater strategic plan, and PERs.

OPTIONS. On a way ahead, options could include limiting the first phase of the proposed sewer project from the Helmsburg to the Lake Lemon corridor. Given the aging Helmsburg sewer plant, the high cost of existing service to Helmsburg customers (92.50 a month), failing systems (200+) in the Lake Lemon area in flooding conditions, documented support of the customer base as well as the support of Monroe County officials, this option would lead to a needed and more immediate success. Opposition from residents in the Bean Blossom plus area (and likely legal action) may lead to delays if this area is included in a first phase.

Another option could include converting the BCRSD Board to an advisory committee and expanding the HRSD board. Given the population density in the county, an RSD representing a respective area (Nashville, Helmsburg, Gnaw Bone) supporting less centralization can be more appropriate and responsive to respective area residents.

COMMUNITY (AREA) LEADERSHIP. Helmsburg also has a Community Development Corp (CDC) where residents have identified a plan for development in their area. An update of this plan could be included as an addendum to the County’s Comprehensive Plan and serve as an example (model) for the other areas in the county that want a voice for what they consider to be in the best interests of their quality of life.  A CDC could be started in Bean Blossom to give residents a direct voice regarding the future of their area.

OPPOSITION / LEGAL ACTION. An expansion of sewers in the Bean Blossom expanded area where landowners refused to provide land for a sewer plant and where it has been estimated that 190 easements may be needed, will likely be problematic. The need is based on a false premise including “record-keeping speculation, assumptions, and anecdotes and along with any BCRSD actions, that may include eminent domain, legal action may be likely. Further, the actions (threat?) that the BCRSD will work with the USDA in challenging livestock and fertilizer practices in the area with the intent to reduce E-Coli levels, may lead to even more opposition.

The projected 30 million plus (phase I) of the sewer projects is most likely the most expensive investment in county history. The motivation for the project has included the desire for development that has been reinforced by elected officials when granting additional funding for the BCRSD.

COUNTY COMPREHENSIVE PLAN. By statute, the County Comprehensive Plan is the voice of the residents as to what they want and do not want in terms of development and associated zoning as well as what they consider to be supportive of their desired quality of life.   Development and approval of the comprehensive plan required public hearings. The County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study were contracted by the BCRSD board and developed under the direction of  Studabaker.  The funds for the study came from the state via the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI). It was developed without ANY public hearings or meetings.  Studabaker declined to have the plan presented at public meetings and has identified that any questions on the plan and water study should be directed to him.

IN SUMMARY, major changes that have a direct effect on the financial security of our residents may include creating conditions forcing them to relocate can be contentions, and may lead to conflict.  An income survey in 2017 identified that 53.1% of our residents are at the low to moderate income level. Adding additional costs – especially given the country’s economic situation including high inflation, are a concern to all.

Major changes must be supported with a clear, compelling, understood, justification that is clearly communicated to the citizenry.  At a minimum, the presentation of the Wastwater Strategic Plan and Water Quality Study should be offered to the public before any public hearing on a presentation of the PERs. Further, the legality of proposing a major and costly strategy that is not addressed specifically in the County Comprehensive Plan should be reviewed.