PIERPONT TOWNSHIP — The township remains divided over the desire of the Pierpont Township Revitalization Committee to revive the downtown area by bringing sewers to it.
During a Tuesday meeting of the Board of Township Trustees a number of residents questioned whether the project is needed and how trustees and the committee are going about it.
The township has a head start toward the project. It received $1.5 million as part of the biennial state budget for water and sewer improvements of which $750,000 was paid this year.
Despite such a show of state support, it’s not clear whether township residents as a whole even want the project to move forward or whether a select few are pushing for it. Township Trustee Barb Culp said Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, worked to get the money back to the township for the project and she’s appreciative of those efforts.
“Personally I am proud that somebody believed in Pierpont,” Culp said. “What I’m hearing from a lot of you is you don’t believe in it, you don’t care about the future of it and you’re just happy to see it be what it is.”
It also remains to be seen whether the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners will support the project, which would require construction of a wastewater treatment plant, and its total estimated price tag of $2.7 million.
Resident Alvin Williams questioned why the trustees authorized the purchase of a $100,000 property for the proposed wastewater treatment plant after the purchase contract was signed off on by Revitalization Commitee member Cameron Wright in August.
Trustees adopted a resolution on Oct. 7 during a special meeting authorizing Wright to purchase the property and assign the rights of the purchase to the township.
“Isn’t the [Revitalization Committee] not supposed to do anything without trustee approval first?” one resident asked.
The property purchase, paid for with township dollars out of the state’s allocation, has occurred before county commissioners have even signed off on moving forward with such a plan.
More than one phase?
Lois Morton, who heads the Revitalization Committee, said a sewer project will only result in an assessment to parcel owners in the downtown area. There is no plan or need to move the project beyond the downtown business area, Morton said.
“The only costs that will be accrued will be those who own property in downtown Pierpont that receive the service of the sewer,” Morton said. “That means that people who own property in Pierpont Township that do not receive the service for the sewer system will incur no costs.”
Residents said they don’t believe claims that sewers in the downtown area won’t result in costs to others who live outside of the downtown area. They also questioned whether there is a need for such a plan at all.
Resident Brian Brent, husband of former Fiscal Officer Bette Brent who resigned earlier this year after accusing Trustee Chairman Bob Jackson and Culp of wrongdoing, maintained that if sewers are brought in, there will be more phases to the project and more people forced to tie in.
Brent said “once the county takes over” they will try to expand the project under new phases and more property owners will be assessed. The township won’t have any authority over the sewers or wastewater treatment plant if the project moves forward and the county will look to expand, Brent said.
“It’s got to get bigger to support itself,” he said.
Jackson said there are no plans for additional phases.
“This is fear mongering and fake news,” Jackson said. “Let’s call it for what it is.”
A bad image?
Some residents questioned why photos of homes in the downtown area, which they claim were taken in a way to make the properties look extra run down, were turned in to the county to highlight a need for sewers and revitalization efforts.
Sewers, or a lack of them, have nothing to do with upkeep of property, residents said.
“What was the point and purpose of trying to pick out the worst possible pictures you could at the worst possible time under the worst possible light conditions?” Williams said.
Morton said she took photos in 2018 of the entire downtown, and she did not single out the worst photos. The photos were meant to be used as something to look back on as a way to gauge progress, Morton said.
“One of the things that came out of our survey in 2018 was that those who live in Pierpont were dismayed about the attractiveness of the community,” Morton said. “There were lots of comments about rundown buildings. I used that as a benchmark that this is what we look like.”
Other residents said the topic is about sewers as an economic development tool, and not about the condition of properties. Morton, they said, has no right to go around town trying to promote the project by making others look like “dirt under her shoes.”
One resident claimed Morton turned her in to the EPA for alleged septic violations which prompted a visit by the health department.
And elsewhere around town, Culp said unsigned letters regarding the project with copies of the purchase agreement are being sent to residents by a “coward.”
“When the trustees write a letter we put our names on it,” Culp said. “When I write a letter, I put my name on it. If I believe in something I put my name on it.”
Resident Josh Woodard expressed dismay over the division springing up in the township. He said his grandparents, and those buried in the cemetery, are looking upon the town and they are “thoroughly pissed.”
“The town that I grew up in is definitely not the town that it is today,” he said. “We have gotten away from the community.”
One resident questioned why the matter of sewers can’t be put to a vote during an election. Jackson said he will check with county commissioners on how to get something on the ballot.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” Jackson said.