County resolves decade-old money mistake

MARSHALL CO. — Due to a mistake back in 2000, Starke County has owed Marshall and Pulaski counties a year’s worth of collections for a drain shared by the three counties since that year.
Kevin Overmyer, Marshall County commissioner, Kathy Norem, Starke County commissioner, and Mike Tiede, Pulaski County commissioner called a joint drainage board meeting Wednesday to officially resolve the matter.
“Basically, according to all the records, we missed the first year of collections (for the drain), in the year of 2000,” said Dennis Estok, Starke County surveyor.
The Zechiel-Chapman-Lohr Drain, reconstructed in 1999, affects 821 acres in Starke County, 78 acres in Pulaski County, and 1,067 acres in Marshall County. Landowners in the watershed of the drain pay $1.75 per acre per year to their respective counties for maintenance.
By missing the first year of collections, Starke County has owed Marshall and Pulaski counties $1,436.75 for about 12 years.
“We will pay, but it shouldn’t have gotten to this point,” said Estok. “This has cost my office a lot of work and lot of time (to figure out the error).
Norem said that the joint drainage board meeting had been requested by Starke County in order to clear up the situation. She noted that representatives from the counties have not met since 2001, and asked why regular meetings had not been scheduled. Fisher said that when the drain was reconstructed, county leaders at that time had decided not to meet and to let Marshall County handle the drain, since they had the most acreage affected.
“I guess the exact amount (owed) would be hard to pinpoint,” said Norem, as Estok pointed out that parcels have changed since 2000, changing the amount of each year’s collection from landowners.
“This is what we are willing to do today, to get the slate clean,” continued Norem. “We are willing to pay…we don’t want bad relationships (between the three counties).”
Norem added that she believes regular meetings are required.
“Had there been meetings, this issue could have been resolved right away,” said Norem.
Fisher said that Marshall and Pulaski counties suspended their collections this year, while Starke County still collected their assessed amount. This was intended to right the mistake and put all three counties on an even playing field.
Overmyer said, “Whatever you collect at the end of this year, we’ll just take whatever you collect, and it will be a clean slate. We’ll close the book on it, and we will start all over next year.”
“I think that’s completely fair,” said Tiede.
A motion was passed to allow Starke County’s 2012 assessment to bring their balance to zero. The board also moved to hold an annual joint drainage meeting in December, with the provision that additional meetings could be called by representatives from the counties if they had questions or concerns.