We’d like to teach a word to the commissioners and landowners involved in the Road 5 debacle in Putnam County: Compromise.
Putnam County Auditor Robert Benroth said this week the commissioners racked up $1.2 million worth of legal fees in the past six years. That’s $1.2 million of taxpayer money that could’ve been spent on, oh, say, deputies patrolling the county or maintaining the magnificent stone courthouse in downtown Ottawa.
You’d think after six years, the commissioners and the landowners made some movement on settling the case. The whole thing started because 13 landowners didn’t want to give up road frontage through eminent domain to widen the heavily travelled county road, which runs between Leipsic and Pandora on the eastern side of Putnam County.
The commissioners didn’t live up to the letter of the law, missing out on a public notification requirement, and a judge decided the county had to pay both a negotiated price for the properties and all legal fees instead of the financially inconceivable idea of tearing up the road and putting everything back the way it was.
That’s where that $1.2 million (and counting) in legal fees comes into play. And keep in mind, they haven’t paid out a penny for the land for those 13 owners yet.
Here’s where the attorneys for each side stand when they talked to our reporter this week:
The commissioners’ attorney says the county wants to pay the fair market value of the land that it paid everyone along the route back in 2012. In other words, they want to pay exactly what they’d always offered to pay for it. That’s not a compromise.
The Road 5 residents’ attorney said they want to be compensated for what they think the land is worth, plus damage to properties and replacement of lost trees and landscaping. That’s pretty much their original asking price too.
Right now, the only people making concessions are the taxpayers of Putnam County. They’re conceding government services to pay for this case. The longer this case drags out, the more legal fees they’ll spend. They’ll keep on paying through a scheduled Oct. 9-12 court case, where they risk a jury of their peers deciding how much compensation each of the 13 landowners should get.
This also offers a cautionary tale for all local governments about the potential dangers of eminent domain. Avoid it at all costs. If there’s absolutely no other way of accomplishing the greater good, you’d better make sure you’re following the letter of the law, including every notification and public meeting, to be certain you won’t be punished like this at the end of the process.