Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 24, 2014

Ruling: Mahaska County must remain in RUSS, pay past fees

By TRISHA PHELPS, Golden Triangle News Service | Jun 13, 2014

MT. PLEASANT (GTNS) — Mahaska County cannot leave the Regional Utility Service Systems, according to the arbitration ruling made in December and reinforced by the most recent ruling of the Iowa District Court Tuesday.

According to the ruling of the most recent lawsuit between RUSS and Mahaska County, RUSS’ application to enforce arbitration award filed on Jan. 28 has been granted. Mahaska County filed an application on March 19 to have the district court vacate, modify or correct the arbitration panel’s decision, which has been denied. The ruling also states Mahaska County Clerk of Court shall assess all court costs associated with the matter to Mahaska County.

According to the arbitration proceedings from December, Mahaska County may not withdraw from the 28E agreement with RUSS or existing projects as long as revenue bond obligations are outstanding.

The proceedings also stated Mahaska County owes RUSS $8,000 for past due membership fees. This year’s membership dues are $13,650 per member county.

RUSS entered into the most recent litigation to attempt to force Mahaska County to abide by the ruling laid out in the December arbitration ruling.

The December ruling stated Mahaska County could not withdraw from RUSS, that it owed RUSS for the past-due 2013 member dues, but that RUSS could not impose penalties for late payments against Mahaska County.

According to the conclusions of law, stated in the recent ruling, “A party’s disagreement with the arbitrators’ conclusion is not grounds for vacating an award.”

In the analysis portion of the proceeding, Mahaska County’s dissatisfaction with the December ruling is because the original 28E agreement fails to state the duration of the agreement, it has to be void. The problem with this argument, according to the recent ruling, is that this was not one of the stipulated three questions the panel was asked to resolve. In other words, according to the ruling, the county wants to void the decision based on the panel’s failure to address a question which was not presented by the parties to the panel.

The 28E in question was created on Nov. 3, 1999, “for the purpose of planning, designing, developing, financing, constructing, owning, operating and maintaining waste water treatment systems and water systems for and on behalf of the counties and the cities and unincorporated areas within the counties,” thus creating RUSS.

The 28E was signed by Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk, Mahaska, Van Buren and Wapello counties. While Davis County is no longer a part of the RUSS organization, Henry Des Moines, Lee, Louisa and Washington counties have now joined the organization.

The agreement contains no specific withdrawal procedure for a member county, according to the 28E agreement and the arbitration proceedings finding of fact.

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