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Water bill hearing held

Smithfield debts impact ability to pay

June 5, 2012
By MARK LAW - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Smithfield officials promised they will pay their delinquent water bill to the county as soon as other government entities quit taking the village's money.

A hearing was held Monday before Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. on the county's motion concerning Smithfield owing the county a little sum of money on an old case and about $100,000 in recent delinquent water bills.

The original debt dates back to 2004, when the commissioners filed a lawsuit to collect $267,354 owed for water bills. The village purchases bulk water from the county and then sells the water to village residents.

Smithfield has paid off nearly all of the old water bill to the county, but other debts incurred by the village have impacted its ability to pay the county's current water bill.

Smithfield Solicitor Bryan Felmet told Bruzzese the Internal Revenue Service in January seized $75,000 for not paying withholding taxes. Felmet said the money was most of the village's operating revenue going into the beginning of the year and also included money collected to pay the county's water debt.

The village also owes $5,000 to the state Public Employees Retirement System, $46,000 to state Workers' Compensation and about $6,400 to the state for unemployment benefit costs.

The state auditor's office also has determined the village's financial records are in such disarray that the auditor's office cannot conduct routine audits.

Bruzzese asked village officials why they just won't turn over the water system to the county. The county commissioners have offered to take over the system and forgive the debt. Mayor Ted Boyd said the water system may be worth more than the $100,000 owed. Attorney Anthony R. Pecora, representing the county, said the water system, built in 1938, has fallen into disrepair and about one-third of the water meters in the village aren't working, resulting in the village not collecting an accurate amount of money for water used.

Patricia Freeland, former mayor and current council member, said the village is charging residents extra money to pay the water debt. She said all the money collected is paid to the county, leaving no money for making repairs. She said the village recently started a repair program for water meters.

"Be patient. You'll get everything that is owed," Freeland said

"Why does Smithfield want to hang onto this dinosaur system?" Bruzzese asked.

Felmet said turning the system over to the county is being considered.

One proposal being considered is village residents directly pay the county for the water bills, but Bruzzese said that may be more of a headache for the county.

Bruzzese said he will probably rule in favor of the county concerning the matter but didn't make a final decision.

The county wants Smithfield to pay $17,099 in attorney fees.

A hearing on whether the attorney fees are reasonable is scheduled for June 13 before Bruzzese, who is expected to announce his final decision at that time.

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