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Published: Tuesday, 12/7/2004

Delta petition to stop hike in water rate is questioned

DELTA - A petition by Delta residents to have voters decide a water-rate increase may not wind up on the ballot.

Village officials said petition circulators failed to file a certified copy of the ordinance before circulating the petition.

During council's meeting, Valerie Edwards, village clerk, read a letter from an attorney representing the village that recommended the clerk not certify the petition to the Fulton County Board of Elections. Attorney Michelle Kranz wrote that the petitioners failed to follow state law.

Mrs. Edwards said after the meeting she'd review the matter further before deciding whether to submit the referendum petitions to the elections board.

Petitions signed by 135 residents were submitted recently to the clerk. The petitioners want the water-rate increase ordinance to be placed on the ballot in the general election next November. A vote could jeopardize the village's plans for a $6 million water treatment plant.

About 105 valid signatures are needed to place a referendum issue on the ballot, said Gary Baker, village administrator. It is up to the village clerk to decide whether the petitions are valid, then to certify the referendum issue to the elections board.

Among those who circulated the petitions was Cathy Buehrer, a council member who voted against the water-rate increase.

After the meeting, Kathy Galbraith, who was on the referendum committee, said the water treatment plant is too expensive and that residents can't afford to pay the higher water rates.

Village law director Terry Kaper appointed Ms. Kranz as a special assistant village law director because of a potential conflict. His secretary has been active in her opposition to the water rate increase, and Mrs. Buehrer's husband works for his office.

The village's charter requires that a certified copy of the ordinance must be circulated when a referendum petition is circulated, officials said last night.

Contracts for construction of the new plant are to be signed by Dec. 30, Mr. Baker said, and the village plans to finalize financing within a week or two.

In November, council voted 4-2 to raise water rates to help pay for the treatment plant, allowing the project to proceed. Mrs. Buehrer voted no.

Mrs. Buehrer has spoken out against the project, arguing that council should hold off for a year or two. She also suggested the village explore the possibility of buying water from Wauseon or from Fulton County.

Water rates will increase 8.7 percent annually for seven years under the ordinance. Council has applied for a $6 million loan from the Ohio Water Development Authority for the project.

Delta received approval this year from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for plans to build a water treatment plant.



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