Citing “lack of communication” as the reason they placed a five-year Revolving Loan Fund moratorium on the Village of Swanton last month, the Fulton County Commissioners overturned the decision during a regular session last week.
The resolution passed Feb. 16 that suspended the village from county loans was amended Thursday to rescind the order. Commissioner Bill Rufenacht suggested the panel was unaware that Swanton Village Council had on Feb. 22 approved an approximately 50/50 split in cost proposed by the county to provide a new staircase at 117 N. Main St. in the village. The building has been without a staircase since the original, which it shared with 113-15 N. Main St., was removed during the latter building’s demolition in January 2015.
The cost of the building demolition and clean-up was funded in part, through a $21,500 Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grant extended to the village.
Justin Serr, the owner of 117 N. Main St., then filed a complaint concerning the demolished staircase with the village, which settled with him for $5,000 on the condition that Serr absolve the village of any further responsibility.
The county commissioners proposed sharing the cost of a new staircase with Swanton after Serr requested an RLF grant to pay for one. The commissioners offered $13,000 of a $24,100 bid proposed by Midwest Contracting of Holland, Ohio, to complete the project.
The village council discussed the proposal at its Feb. 8 meeting, then approved it at its next meeting held Feb. 22. But when the village had failed to respond to the offer by Feb. 16 the commissioners voted to extend the full cost of the staircase directly to Midwest Contracting. Following a suggestion by Rufenacht, they also placed a five-year moratorium on RLF requests by Swanton.
According to the session’s agenda minutes, “Commissioner (Jeff) Rupp explains that his challenge with (Serr’s RLF) request is that the village settled on $5,000, however, morally it is obvious that the village is obligated to make it right and to just come ask for a grant sounds like no moral responsibility is being taken…”
On Thursday, the commissioners rescinded the moratorium against the village. Rufenacht said the disagreement was a misunderstanding due to a lack of communication with the village.
“Now we’ve got more information. We’re happy that Swanton is going to participate in this project,” he said. “Seeing that this helps us have more money in that fund, I would like to make an amendment saying that Swanton will be eligible for future RLF, the ones that they qualify for, with no time restrictions.”
In a news release issued Thursday by the county, Rufenacht is quoted as saying, “We’re very pleased to have worked out these details with the Village of Swanton. This was an issue of timing and slow communication from both parties. We meant no ill will towards the Village in this process. The decision to award the RLF for the full amount on February 16th was based on the information we had at the time, and in the best interest of our citizens.”
Rufenacht also said in the news release that, because the county RLF contributed to the demolition of the adjacent building, which included the staircase, “we simply felt that it was fair to ask the Village not to request additional grant funds for the next five years so that other communities and townships in the county could have access to the funds as well.”
Swanton Mayor Ann Roth was quoted in the release as saying, “I am pleased with the Commissioners decision to amend this resolution. After I was able to provide the history and facts concerning the demolition of 113 N. Main St., the commissioners had a new understanding of the situation, and have enacted a new Resolution demonstrating our joint effort to solve this matter.”
Communication can be slow between the commissioners and the village, since the commissioners meeting are held more frequently, County Administrator Vond Hall said.
“There is a lot of coordinating that needs to occur between boards and council members as one can imagine, and it doesn’t always align perfectly such as in this case,” the release stated.
According to Regional Planning Director David Wright, who attended Thursday’s session, the county has not yet contracted with Midwest Contracting or any other company for the staircase project. That is due, in part, to an encroachment issue involving an easement necessary to install the staircase, which has since been resolved.
Wright said it’s also due to his pursuit of additional bids for the project after determining that several provided by Serr were inordinately high, some upwards of $39,000. Rupp told Wright he considers the Midwest Contracting bid high also, and requested Wright pursue a bid from another suggested company.
“We’re just trying to be good stewards of the state’s money,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.