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Elizabeth, S.H. sign water contracts; Burns’ roles questioned

Two agreements were signed between the town of Elizabeth and the South Harrison Water Corp. Thursday, at a special town board meeting.
One agreement is for the town to sell South Harrison 60 million gallons of water a year. South Harrison will in turn sell the water to Caesars for its new golf course off S.R. 11.
“The price of the water is $2.05 per 1,000 gallons, and the agreement should earn Elizabeth about $120,000 annually,” said Bruce Cunningham, general manager of South Harrison. “We had to have this agreement in place before we could sell water to Caesars.”
The agreement became effective March 28. Caesars will begin buying water this summer.
After signing the agreement, Cunningham delivered a check for $10,552 to Elizabeth for water that had already been purchased.
The second agreement is for South Harrison Water to continue operating Elizabeth’s wastewater filtration plant on a year-to-year basis until the town can train or hire a licensed operator. It takes three years of hands-on experience for a person to become licensed.
The water company has been overseeing the operation of the filtration plant for free since August 2001 and will continue to monitor the plant’s operation and water quality on a daily basis.
Cunningham said the agreement makes legal what the town and the water company had been doing on a “good neighbor” basis.
“We agreed to operate the filtration plant after it was built by Caesars because it helped the town of Elizabeth,” said Cunningham. “We have two licensed operators, so we just send one of them there to monitor the operation on a daily basis.”
LaVada Davis, publisher of a newsletter called The Rooster Bin, addressed the town council to express her concerns about difficulty she said she had obtaining public access information from town manager and clerk-treasurer Hugh Burns.
She said when she requested audit reports from the women working in the town office, they were unable to find the reports, but they did let her look through the town’s checkbook. Davis said they told her that “they didn’t know where Burns kept the files.”
Davis also brought up the question of whether Burns can legally serve as town manager and clerk-treasurer because two bonds, which Burns is required to have in place to hold those positions, had allegedly expired Dec. 31, 2000. Davis said there were problems with how the bonds had been signed by commissioners and recorded.
Davis said the bond situation discovery was a “fluke.”
Mathes said the bonds should be recorded in her office, but if Burns was elected to the office, she felt he should be able to hold office whether the bonds are recorded or not.
“I think Burns just needs to take his bonds to the recorder’s office and have them recorded, and he’ll be fine,” Davis said during a phone interview Monday.
Davis then told the town council that Charles Pride of the State Board of Accounts told her that it’s not illegal for one person to hold the town manager and clerk-treasurer jobs at the same time, but it is unethical.
The board members present at the meeting, Willard Haas and Michael Sampson, agreed to have town attorney David Layson look into the matter.
Burns was not at the council meeting because he was working out of town. During a phone conversation, Burns said all the information Davis has circulated about him in her newsletter is false. He said his bonds are in force and filed properly and on time at the county recorder’s office according to state law.
In regard to Davis’ complaint concerning obtaining public access information, Burns said. Davis has received a copy of everything she requested.
He said the women working in the town office (who work for the water department) don’t take care of those records because they are kept in the clerk-treasurer’s office.
Burns said by law he has 48 hours to provide information requested from his office. He said Davis made her request for information on a Friday and received her information on the next Monday.
When asked about the legality of holding two town offices at the same time, (town manager and clerk-treasurer), Burns said he is not violating any Indiana state law.
“My reputation is unblemished, and this information being spread around about me has no basis of fact,” said Burns. “I am going to have an attorney send her (Davis) a copy of state laws concerning slander, libel and defamation of character so she’ll know what she is doing,” Burns responded.
Burns is paid $950 per month, $475 for each town office he holds.
In another matter, Davis questioned the legality of the town charging customer deposit fees of $75 to renters and mobile home owners for water utility service. She asked if the fees would be returned to the customers.
Council members replied that the deposits were charged beginning in the late 1980s to cover the costs incurred by the utility because of the number of renters who moved into the town and then left without paying their final bills.
They said subsequent town boards continued the policy of charging the deposit fees, which are returned as a credit on the customer’s final bill.
The topic of Rose Hill Cemetery was raised by Haas, who explained that the cemetery is owned and maintained by the town but a perpetual care fund had been established to maintain the cemetery and was not being spent for that purpose.
He said the fund has $50,000 to $70,000 in an interest-bearing account, but he said he doesn’t know where the funds are deposited. He said the council would like to know why it is not being spent for cemetery upkeep.