County to fight over Fellsmere hydrants on constitutional grounds

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved appealing a judge’s ruling that the county owes the City of Fellsmere $12,800 for maintaining fire hydrants.

County Attorney Will Collins asked commissioners to authorize him to file the appeal to the Circuit Court, arguing the constitutionality of the city’s ordinance that the city says requires the county to pay for the upkeep of the hydrants. Collins told commissioners that the special master who presides over the City of Fellsmere’s code enforcement issues did not address the county’s arguments. Instead, Special Master John Banks ruled that the county is a water customer of the city and that the county had failed to pay its bill.

The judge ruled that he does not have the authority to decide constitutional issues, noting that those arguments would have to be heard at Circuit Court.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker said of the county’s decision to appeal the ruling when reached after the commission meeting.

He added that the county is interpreting a state statute narrowly and is not looking to the overall picture.

“We feel pretty confident,” Nunemaker said of the city’s defense for the appeal. The city plans to send a letter to the county later today requesting the commission to reconsider its decision to appeal.

For a moment, County Commissioner Wesley Davis considered having the county pay the $12,871.04 the city says it is owed. Davis explained that by doing so, it might help clarify the issue — that the issue is not that the county did not pay but that the county should not have had to pay.

“I don’t think it would help,” Collins responded, effectively squelching further discussion of paying Fellsmere.

As for the effect of not having nearly $13,000 in the city’s coffers, Nunemaker said, “it’s not an issue,” though he added the two sides need to reach an agreement.

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