By BRADEN LAMMERS
Changes made to bring the city into compliance with state law may end up costing the Jeffersonville Sewer Board more going into next year.
Jeffersonville’s City Council recently approved an amendment to require approval of contracts presented to the Drainage Board go through the city’s sewer board for final approval.
The first three of those contracts, since the amendment to the city ordinance was approved, came before the sewer board Monday. All three contracts were approved: two were for consulting services, and the third was a construction contract for Roselawn and Magnolia neighborhood drainage improvements.
While the drainage board still offers a recommendation on the contracts, sewer board members wanted to make sure they were clear what they were approving.
“When we do this, I want to be very cooperative with the drainage board, but I would like to have some way, as these are presented to us, give us the project and what they are actually going to be doing,” said Sewer Board Member Dale Orem.
Along with the official approval of contracts, the sewer board may have also picked up some additional costs.
The drainage board also previously controlled the city’s MS4 — municipal separate storm sewer system — and covered the costs associated with the program. But since approvals now lie with the sewer board, it is anticipated that some, if not all, of the costs will also be passed along from the drainage board to the sewer board.
“If they don’t want to fund it then we’re going to have to fund it,” said Wastewater Superintendent Len Ashack.
Ashack said the program is more than just dealing with drainage as a result stormwater. It’s dealing with educating the public, making sure the public doesn’t do anything to the sewer system to harm the environment, mapping storm sewers and working with other city departments to ensure compliance.
“I kind of laid off of this until the decision was made on whether we were going to take over or not, because if we are we‘ve got to talk about how we’re going to fund it,” Ashack said.
He added a decision doesn’t need to be immediately, but the sewer board may need to determine how it will implement several required pieces of the MS4 program.
At least one member of the drainage board saw the move to change it to an advisory board as politically motivated.
“I’m not in favor of it,” said Drainage Board President Charlie Bryant at the council meeting where the amendment to the ordinance was introduced in October. “That would give sewer complete power over everything. We can’t make any decisions, We’ve got [more than] 200 some odd projects that we paid for in the next 10 years. They’re going to tie our hands, and what’s the use in having a drainage board? And I think that’s what they’re after.”
Bryant explained that he believes the change was motivated, in part, because of the recent resignation of the city’s MS4 Director Deb Ashack.
“There has been some friction with Deb,” he said. “We have had people contact me that that job was not being done right. The mayor and the sewer board, if they get their hands in it, they control it. They’re playing politics.”
Deb Ashack, Len Ashack’s wife, had been working as the city’s MS4 director for about five years. The position, which remains vacant, is under control of the city engineer’s office. Louisville-based Stantec Engineering is operating the program in the meantime.
Attempts by the News and Tribune to contact Deb Ashack were unsuccessful.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore also said previously the drainage board has been entering into contracts, but they probably should not have been. He said the decision to remove the board’s ability to contract was not made as a political power play.
“The city’s drainage board, I support 100 percent, but if you look at what their duties are, it clearly states, it’s an advisory board,” Moore said. “It’s not legal,” he said of the process previously in place.
Moore added that two-thirds of the voting members of the sewer board are appointed by the city council and he is the sewer board’s third member.