Road 5 mess only hurts taxpayers

First Posted: 1/2/2015

The latest development in the Road 5 expansion debacle in Putnam County could be counted as a win for the landowners.

After all, the Ohio Supreme Court essentially endorsed an appellate court’s ruling, saying the commissioners didn’t follow the Ohio Sunshine Law as it planned the 4-foot widening of 11.2 miles of road between Pandora and Leipsic, bringing it to 24 feet wide.

It’d be easy to count it as a loss for the Putnam County commissioners, who’d appealed that ruling.

The real losers in this case are taxpayers in Putnam County.

The commissioners didn’t abide by the letter or spirit of the law when it came to publicizing their plans and inviting public comment. They decided to go ahead with the project without crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s, as far as Ohio’s courts are concerned.

The commissioners approved the project by a 2-1 vote, with John Love and Vincent Schroeder approving it and Travis Jerwers saying no. They hoped it would spur the local economy and make it easier to get to the industrialized areas of Leipsic, including Iams, PRO-TEC Coating Co. and the POET ethanol refinery.

Now the commissioners will have to pay for their hastiness. More accurately, Putnam County taxpayers will have to pay for their hastiness.

The commissioners could be on the hook for $500 for each violation of the Sunshine Law. That could be a hefty fine for not operating in a transparent manner.

The commissioners used eminent domain to take the property needed to expand the right-of-way. Now they will have to write checks to landowners who objected to the government taking that property away from them, likely at well more than the actual value of the land.

There’s even the possibility — as ridiculous as this will sound — they’d have to un-build the expansion and restore everything to the way it was. A footnote on the appellate ruling noted that would be a “tremendous waste of public resources,” and we can’t agree enough with them on that.

The commissioners have already invested $10 million on the project, not to count the attorney fees to defend the county against the residents’ lawsuit. We’re exasperated that this case is going to continue to rack up additional costs.

It’s a cautionary tale for local governments, especially those considering eminent domain. Slow down. Make sure you’re taking each step cautiously and correctly. Consider your options carefully.

After all, if you do it wrong, you’re not punished nearly as badly as your taxpayers will be.

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