FOX19 NOW Investigates: Village held $1M taxpayer project hostag - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 NOW Investigates: Village held $1M taxpayer project hostage with $30K part

The $1M water tower the village hasn’t used since it’s completion in 2009. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) The $1M water tower the village hasn’t used since it’s completion in 2009. (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
New Miami Water Board President Don Fox’s official statement on his board’s failure to finish the job: “no comment.” (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW) New Miami Water Board President Don Fox’s official statement on his board’s failure to finish the job: “no comment.” (Source: Jody Barr, FOX19 NOW)
NEW MIAMI, OH (FOX19) -

The New Miami Village’s water board was closing in on a decade of delay in finishing up a $1 million dollar water tower. The tower was finished in 2009—that’s before the village decided it wanted upgrades it couldn’t afford.

The water tower’s stood, unused ever since.

THE PROJECT

In the early 2000s, the New Miami Village started planning for future infrastructure upgrades to its decades-old system. The plan was to apply for federal tax dollars to fund the upgrades. Included in that plan was a $1 million water tower.

In January 2008, the village used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tax dollars to put together a study titled, “Drinking Water Protection Plan for the Village of New Miami.” The village also leaned on publicly-funded resources from intergovernmental agencies in Kentucky and Indiana.

Part of this plan was to replace the village’s original water tower, built in 1948.

The village put the study together and told the feds its purpose was to “prevent contamination of New Miami’s drinking water source, which is ground water underlying a small part of the village,” according to the 149 page 2008 study.

The village went to work to build a new water tower. The village spent $905,000 on the tower project and Caldwell Tank construction crews went to work.

The tower, completed in 2009, has stood since. As of this report, the tower is not operating.

THE DELAY

When contractors finished the tower in 2009, the village informed the contractor it wanted a pressure relief valve installed. The valve, originally suggested by the contractor in the initial planning stage, would cost the village another $30,000, according to village consultant Shawn Campbell.
 
Campbell’s company, Jones-Warner Consultants, Inc., oversaw the project for the village. Campbell told FOX19 NOW, the village told the contractor the valve wasn’t needed in the original plans, but later changed its mind after the project was finished.

“We recommended it to New Miami Village, but New Miami Village didn’t want it until afterwards and didn’t have the money,” Campbell said.

The decision to purchase the valve fell on the New Miami Village’s Public Services Board, led by Don Fox. Fox’s board—since 2009—has not approved or appropriated the money for the part until the county stepped in a few months ago.

WATER BOARD PRESIDENT: “No comment”

The village was one vote from the water board away from finishing the job, but since 2009, that vote did not happen. The New Miami water board did not appropriate the $30,000 to have a contractor come in and install the final piece of the $1 million water tower.

“We have been on them for two or three years to get this done,” New Miami Village Interim Mayor Bob Hensley told FOX19 NOW. “We can voice our displeasure, but that’s basically all we can do,” Hensley said.

The village council has no authority over Don Fox or his water board.

“I know it’s been at least five years that we’ve been on it about getting it fixed because it is pretty frustrating for it to be over there and just basically sitting there as a big, white elephant,” Hensley said.

We tried for more than a week to contact Fox: at his government office, by his taxpayer-funded cell phone and at a July council meeting. Fox told a town staffer he was not coming to the July meeting after he found out we would be there to talk with him.

Fox did not show for that meeting and never returned our messages.

We caught up with Fox at the July 21 water board meeting at town hall. Fox would not answer questions regarding the project and his board’s delay in finishing the job. Fox’s response to a string of questions was, “no comment.”

After the meeting adjourned, Fox told us, “All of that’s been taken care of. There’s too much to go into; we need some positive things.”

Water board member Patricia Lipscomb, who Fox told to respond to our questions with a “no comment,” told FOX19 NOW as she left the meeting, “We took care of that, there’s no reason going into it. He (Fox) went into it with the mayor, go to the mayor and talk with him.”

Water board member Gene Beverlein was the only one of the three to make an attempt at explaining what happened with the project. Beverlein joined the board after the water tower project was completed.

“We worked to get the parts and everything like that, but every time something happens, we’ve got a breakdown here,” Beverlein explained.

“It’s because of an old system and you can only do so much with so much,” Beverlein said.

Beverlein’s interview with was stopped after Fox walked back into the board room to tell Beverlein he’d said enough.

BUTLER COUNTY BAILOUT

In March, the Butler County Commissioners received a request from New Miami Village for $129,000 in county tax dollars to pave alleys in town. Knowing the history of the water tower project, the county denied the request and issued the village an ultimatum: finish the job.
 
“We just said, look, this is high time we step in here and help them out a little bit and direct where the money needs to go,” Butler County Commission President, Donald Dixon told FOX19 NOW.

“It wasn’t a hard decision to make. This is a quality of life issue, this isn’t a bump in the road,” Dixon said.

Dixon was one of three unanimous votes from the three member board that approved handing the village $40,000 to finish the valve installation.

“It should have been addressed when they built the tank. It’s really hard to believe that all that construction would go take place and money spent and not put in service,” Dixon said.

“Government moves slowly anyway, but it doesn’t move that slow,” Dixon said. “I think five years pretty much speaks for itself,” Dixon told FOX19 NOW.

On July 24, the village consultant received three bids for the valve installation. The lowest bid came in at $37,635, according to Campbell. Campbell expected the county to approve the bidder, Bronco Excavating out of Fairfield, for the work.

Bronco submitted a previous bid for the work in 2014, Campbell said, but the village did not set aside the money to finish the project.

The village has not appropriated tax dollars to tear down the old water tower or install a new liner in a sediment basin the town uses in its water system.

The village expects the new water tower to go online by Dec. 31, 2015. 

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