County to finish sewers
Settling a dispute that has lasted for years, the county will also pay half of Redington Beach's attorney's fees.
By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published April 16, 2006
CLEARWATER - Eight years after selling its aging sewer system to Pinellas County for $10, Redington Beach appeared successful Thursday in forcing the county to complete promised repairs.
In an unusual joint meeting, the Town Commission and the County Commission agreed to settle a dispute that could have ended up in court.
As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay Redington Beach $8,000 to cover half of its attorney's fees.
The county also agreed to complete the last phase of improvements to the town's sewer system by October.
The two-hour joint commission meeting was facilitated by Charles Castagna, a state-certified mediator. He told the two commissions he hoped they could resolve the dispute without going through the litigation process.
Timothy Webber, the attorney representing Redington Beach, spoke first, outlining the process that had led the town to start legal proceedings against the county.
"The county promised it would make $1.8-million in necessary improvements to the system by 2001. It didn't exactly go as promised,'' Webber said.
In 2004, the town repeatedly asked the county for an accounting and work schedule. A year later the town called official conflict resolution proceedings.
Webber said the town was not trying to be mean spirited or uncooperative, but wanted the county to fulfill its agreement.
Pick Talley, the county's director of utilities, contested much of Webber's testimony. He said repairs and improvements to the town's sewer system were slowed by delays in the installation of reclaimed water lines on the beaches. Both projects were to be done at the same time.
In the past few years, the county has replaced or repaired almost all of the town's sewer lines and is in the process of replacing three lift stations. Talley said the sewer system will be the newest in the county.
Webber argued that because of the delay in starting the project, the town could have kept the system and earned about $61,000 a year in profits from sewer fees for potential damages of $240,000.
Talley disputed that figure and the town's claim. "We don't feel you have any damages,'' he said.
Webber countered that getting "money has never been in the town's interest''.
Mayor Linda Wilson asked the County Commission to "finish what you said you would do and cover our attorney's cost.
Earlier in the week, the town had offered to settle its claim for damages if the county would pay $10,000 toward the town's $16,000 in legal fees. The county refused, making a counter offer of $5,250.
For a while Thursday, it appeared the two sides were not going to give. Then Castagna reminded them that in most settlements, both sides have to make concessions.
"We are all working for the same people,'' said County Commissioner Bob Stewart. "It is really distasteful to debate this. We've got to split the difference and get out of here.''
The two commissions finally agreed on the $8,000 settlement, which should be made formal in resolutions passed by both commissions at their next meetings.
[Last modified April 16, 2006, 08:32:29]
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