Charter meeting fails to interest Bethel residents

After no residents appeared at a pair of public hearings in Bethel, village council members suggested at the Aug. 14 meeting that the apparent lack of concern by village residents could be a sign of years of quality management.

Scheduled as an informational session to discuss the village charter effort and the purchase of water from Tate-Monroe Water, the hearings drew no crowd of concerned residents, with only one man asking questions of the council throughout the proceedings.

In the earlier hearing, the council outlined its hopes of creating a charter for the village to replace the Ohio Revised Code system of village government that Bethel currently operates under. The charter would be a form of constitution, drawn up by a commission of 15 Bethel residents, that would help clarify the codes governing the village.

“We passed an ordinance asking if a commission should be chosen to frame a charter,” said Bethel Administrator Michael Shiverski. “Any resident interested in running for the commission, it’s 25 signatures on their petition and the top 15 will comprise the charter committee, if the population wants a charter.”

To adopt a charter, the village would first have to vote to create one, which will be possible in the Nov. 7 election. Then, during that same election, the village would have to choose a total of 15 residents to serve on a charter commission, which would write the charter. That commission would have one year to write the charter and present it to voters, who would then approve or deny the charter.

An attempt to create a charter was stopped previously when only a few residents applied to run for the charter commission.

“It has to be 15, because it’s in the constitution,” said Bethel Solicitor George Leicht. “If we don’t have 15, then constitutionally, we can’t create the charter. This is something we have to follow, because our power to do this comes from the constitution.”

Finding those candidates, however, could be a challenge. The village has faced a number of problems finding candidates willing to serve. Already, the planning commission, and the zoning boards, at times, have failed to maintain enough members to operate. To help, the deadline for candidates seeking to file for the commission race has been extended to Sept. 28.

“I think it’s good that we sell this,” said Mayor Kevin Perkins. “I don’t like the word proactive, but it’s good to be working towards having this set up before we have to have one. Even if some do think this is premature, it will give us time to get the ball rolling and get a charter in, and if it needs tweaked we’ll have a few years to modify it and set it right.”

The council also saw little public reaction to its plan to purchase water from Tate Monroe Water. Recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations restricting how surface water is treated made operating the current Bethel water plant nearly impossible. Faced with either building a new plant or trying to meet regulations on the current one, Shiverski said that buying water from an outside source would be the most economically feasible way to go.

“For a number of months, we’ve been dealing with the Tate Monroe Water Association about options for our water distribution plan,” said Shiverski. “Regulations are extremely stringent now and only anticipated to get worse in regards to treating any water, especially surface water, which is what we treat. It appears that distribution only seems to be a viable option. We have an agreement with Tate Monroe for 20 years of supplying us with water, which we can distribute to our customers.”

The rates, he said, will remain the same, and residents have been drinking Tate Monroe water since May. The village has also been a recipient of Tate Monroe water for years when drought conditions lowered the level of available water in their reservoir. Solicitor Leicht, however, suggested planning for when the contract ends in 20 years.

“We need to know what we plan to do 20 years from now, because, technically, they have no duty to provide us with water,” said Leicht. “I think we should have some alternatives, plan long term, to set money aside like in a capital improvement fund to provide water, should it be buying from another source or digging a well. We have to be able to supply the village with the basic necessities. Since we won’t be processing the water, our cost will be low for 20 years.”

The estimated cost to build a new treatment plant would be between $4 million and $6 million.