PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission approved a resolution declaring the city’s intention to appropriate approximately 1.8 acres of land located near Swift Run Lake at the recommendation of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) during its meeting on Tuesday.
This resolution is one of the initial legislative steps to happen as the city prepares to file a potential eminent domain lawsuit in order to take control of this land, which is located at 9480 N. State Route 66, Piqua. ODNR recommended the city acquire this property due to a safety concern with the property being located next to the dam at Swift Run Lake.
“We’re being faced with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources requiring us to look at our dams, which with housing right at the base of the dam, could require us to expand our dams — the width and the length of the dams — in order to provide protection of this property, which could run millions of dollars,” City Manager Gary Huff said. “Under the conditions, it is important that we get this property both for safety reasons but also for cost effective (reasons) in order to save the city millions of dollars.”
City Attorney Frank Patrizio said the city has been negotiating with the current owners, Tecla Powell and Roland Kellar, Jr., for over six months, but the owners are requesting over $70,000 more than what the city believes to be the fair market value for the property.
“We would be more than happy to reach a resolution with the homeowner,” Patrizio said.
Patrizio said the appraisal value of the property is approximately $38,500. According to Miami County Auditor’s Office records, the current owners purchased the property in September 2018 for $35,000. Patrizio said the owners are requesting the city pay $110,000 for the property.
“That property’s currently vacant and not in the condition to be (inhabited),” Huff said.
If the city is not able to reach an agreement with the property owners, Patrizio said the city would potentially file an eminent domain lawsuit and pay the fair market value for the land in order to take control of the land.
Underground utilities faced with unexpected expense
Also during its meeting Tuesday, the commission approved awarding a contract to Hull & Associates for thr city’s Fountain Boulevard/canal sanitary and manhole replacement project. According to the Underground Utilities Department, its staff discovered a sanitary manhole taking on canal water in August 2019. The manhole is located north of the Echo Lake Drive bridge at the canal water’s edge.
“About 30 percent of the manhole was exposed to the canal,” Director Shane Johnson of the Underground Utilities Department said. The manhole is constructed of brick and mortar, which has been compromised by the canal water.
Johnson said this is an unexpected expense for the department. If it is not addressed, Echo Lake could potentially be contaminated with sewer water.
Hull & Associates responded to the city’s request for qualifications (RFQ) on this project and was deemed the most qualified. The contract cost is $115,925. Hull will be performing the following tasks: topographic survey, geotechnical engineering, hydraulic student, coordinate with regulatory agencies such as ODNR and the Ohio EPA, develop three design alternatives, bidding assistance, and construction administration assistance.
Huff said, as this cost was unexpected and not budgeted, this was an example of why the utility departments build reserve funds in case emergency expenses occur. He said total project, including construction, could end up costing between $500,000 to $750,000.
Jey Roman of Piqua asked if this project could cause rates to go up. Huff said, “Not immediately, no.”
Utility bills, aid discussed
Later during public comment, Roman brought up the city’s electric rates and how residents saw increases to their rates in 2015, later discussing the resolution the commission approved in August 2019 with a list of goals for city staff to develop or implement to help address residents’ concerns with utility bills.
Roman said he was planning on speaking to television news reporters in regard to the electric bills, saying, “We still haven’t found a solution all (these) years later on this problem.” He said he wanted to tell the WHIO news station “we’re working on a solution.”
Roman discussed how he and others were not aware the AMP voltage devices the city purchased for customers to use to test the energy output of their outlets were available.
“They were purchased, but I wasn’t made aware of it, you, Mr. Lee, and you, Mr. Grissom, weren’t aware of what’s going on,” Roman said.
Huff took responsibility for the word not getting out in regard to the devices being available.
Commissioner Kazy Hinds went over the resolution from August and which aspects of the resolution had been accomplished. Those accomplished included:
• The AMP voltage devices available for customers to use were purchased.
• The financial software programs being looked at is underway.
• The city posted assistance programs available to customers on its website. Also posted on its website were the city’s utility rates.
• The city is developing a pool fill-up policy that waives the wastewater fee. It will be completed in the spring, Hinds said.
• The payment plan policy for extenuating circumstances was completed.
Hinds said the auditor’s office advised against establishing a Round-Up Fund for customers needing assistance, which was also included on the resolution.
The resolution also included establishing a shut-off policy for non-payment of utility bills during cold weather, as well as establising level billing for customers who have 12 months of service and are current on fees. Hinds did not comment on the level billing. Hinds said the shut-off policy has been established. The shut-off policy is currently not on the city’s website, but the city’s website includes a list of the utility non-payment disconnect dates planned for 2020. This list also includes a list of approximately 18 properties disconnected on Feb. 13 for non-payment.