BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - Over the past 18 months, the Van Wert County Commissioners have been saddled with a penalty from a mistake made before any of the current commissioners ever took office. On Thursday, Commission Chair Thad Lichtensteiger wore a big smile when he announced that the county would not have to cough up more than $365,000 to the Ohio Development Service Agency. That total was the sum of the grant money which enabled a sewer project on Van Wert's south side.
"We are happy, ecstatic, to announced that our insurance carrier is going to cover our $365,523 loss from the 2009 grant repayment," he stated.
The state had found a glitch in the paperwork associated with the grant from the 2009 project that extended Van Wert City water and sewer service to 66 residences south of what was then the city limits, along U.S. 127 and St. Rd. 118. It turned out that a release of grant funds had not been given when work began, despite the fact that the grant funds themselves had already been delivered to the county.The project itself was necessary to appease the Environmental Protection Agency who had targeted the area as having an insufficient sewage system. The area was tied into the city system as a much more cost-effective option than forcing each homeowner to install a new septic system.
The $365,000 finding against the county had been hovering over the commissioners' heads, threatening to disrupt the 2014 budget. Earlier this fall, the commissioners had to sign a repayment agreement for the money, making small payments this fall and winter with a $300,000-plus payment due in June 2014.
Ironically the current commissioners were not even in office when the mistake was made. Lichtensteiger took office in 2011, Stan Owens and Todd Wolfrum began their terms in 2013.
The relief among the three commissioners was evident. Lichtensteiger said that there were times when he wondered if an answer would be found, but he, Owens and Wolfrum continued to make their case to Columbus and to Washington. In the end, the three different entities which cover the county from any employee negligence will pay.
"The county must first pay its obligation to Development Service Agency in Columbus, and then our insurer will issue a check to us," Lichtensteiger explained. "The county's sole obligation is a $500 deductible."