FELLSMERE – Fellsmere officials and the Board of County Commissioners have reached a tentative agreement over the payment of fire hydrant maintenance while an appeal is pending in the court system.
Commissioners unanimously approved paying the City of Fellsmere’s 2010 bill of $25,500 for maintaining the city’s fire hydrants for Indian Rive County Fire Rescue – contingent on the outcome of the county’s appeal of the 2009 bill. County Attorney Alan Polackwich, in working with Fellsmere City Attorney Warren Dill, came up with the compromise as a way to minimize the county’s financial liability in the event the county loses the pending appeal.
“We’re happy to work with them,” Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker said after the commission meeting.
In 2009, Fellsmere billed the county approximately $25,500 for maintenance and upkeep on the city’s fire hydrants, which the city contends are used only by Indian River County Fire Rescue and should be paid for by the county.
That year, the county paid half the bill and refused payment on the other half, which triggered a code enforcement hearing and a finding by the special master that the county was in the wrong.
The county was ordered to pay the remainder of the bill and another nearly $26,000 in legal fees and code enforcement fines.
Instead of paying, the county appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals, where it sits awaiting an appeals hearing that could happen by late fall or early winter.
In the meantime, the City of Fellsmere sent the county a bill for 2010’s hydrant maintenance, which the county again refused to pay, starting the cycle over again.
County officials had asked the city to hold off on pursuing the matter through code enforcement while the 2009 appeal remains pending. The city declined and initiated the code enforcement proceedings.
The matter was scheduled to go before the same special master on June 9.
County Attorney Polackwich told commissioners that, in his opinion, the worst thing to do – for the taxpayers – would be to duplicate the situation.
Commissioner Wesley Davis agreed.
“I felt, at the time, we should have paid this,” Commissioner Davis said of the 2009 bill – and then figure out how to get the money back if the 2009 appeal favors the county.
He added that then-County Attorney Will Collins believed it would weaken the county’s case in court if the county were to pay the bill.
County Attorney Polackwich told the commissioners that he does not believe that paying either bill would weaken the county’s case.
City Attorney Dill told commissioners during the discussion that the Fellsmere City Council would be meeting on Thursday and that he would recommend they approve the county’s proposal pertaining to the 2010 bill.
City Manager Nunemaker also expressed optimism that the city and county could work out a similar agreement for the 2009 bill to stop the $30-daily fine the county is accruing on the unpaid portion of the bill.
Both agreements could require the county to pay the fire hydrant maintenance bills and any legal fees and fines. However, if the county wins the pending appeal, the City of Fellsmere would have to refund the money.