PERU – The Miami County Council refused to vote this week on whether to pay an outstanding bill it owed for consulting work on a proposed wind farm.
They didn’t know at the time that the bill had already been paid in full.
Council members were set to vote on whether to appropriate $16,000 for the final bill from two consulting companies hired by the county to negotiate contracts with RES, an international renewable energy company with its U.S. headquarters based in Colorado.
The company had proposed to bring 75 wind turbines to the northern part of the county.
Commissioners Larry West and Alan Hunt voted last year to approve $25,000 to pay Umbaugh & Associates and Barnes & Thornburg to help officials assess the potential impact of the wind project, which was also proposed to extend into Cass and Fulton counties.
The total cost to pay for the consulting companies rang up to around $75,000, with all three counties potentially impacted by the wind farm paying a third of that cost.
But earlier this month, the project was put on hold and likely killed after a new wind ordinance took effect requiring a 2,000-foot setback of turbines from property lines.
However, the county still owed the money to the two consulting firms for the work they had done on the project.
Last month, the council approved the first $9,000 to pay off the $25,000 bill with no debate or discussion.
But on Tuesday, the council refused to vote on the final $16,000 on the bill after the appropriation received pushback from residents.
Charles Smith, who filed a lawsuit against the county arguing its former wind ordinance was unconstitutional, said he didn’t think the county was obligated to pay for the consulting fees.
“If we had an agreement with the other two counties, we need to find out what they’re doing,” he said. “If they’re not paying their share, we shouldn’t be obligated to pay ours.”
Commissioner West said Miami County didn’t have a contract with the other counties, but they had all agreed to split the cost three ways to pay for the services of the two companies.
Smith said he still didn’t want the council to approve the funding.
“I worked in the factory for 45 years and 11 months, and I don’t want my money to go to pay Barnes & Thornburg like this,” he said. “I don’t think we’re obligated to pay.”
That comment received pushback from Clint Manning, the father of Council President Ethan Manning, who said the county was obligated to pay its bills.
“We asked a company to do work for us, they did the work, and now we’re debating whether to pay them for that work we asked them to do?” he said. “ … This is a bill where the work has been done and it’s owed. It doesn’t matter if another county defaults or not. We should honor our contract.”
West agreed, saying the county owed the money regardless of whether Cass and Fulton counties paid their portion of the bill or not.
“The fact remains that we owe Barnes & Thornburg,” he said. “We had an agreement.”
Councilman Ralph Duckwall then made a motion to approve the appropriation. But no council members would second it to take a vote.
Council members thought the bill would go unpaid. But on Wednesday, Ethan Manning said he found out the outstanding balance had already been paid by the auditor’s office before the meeting.
Auditor Mary Brown said Friday her office had already paid the bill because it was due before Tuesday’s council meeting, and the council last month had approved the first payment without any debate.
She said the bill is now paid in full. However, the council will either have to vote on the approval of the additional funding, or simply transfer money from one line item in the budget that still has money in it to the line item budgeted to pay for the contracting fees.
Ethan Manning said Friday he planned to just move the money from another line item in the budget.
“We have a contract, we have the invoice, we have a bill to pay,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”
The wind-farm project has faced fierce opposition from some residents since the county signed the contracts with the two consulting firms. That opposition led the Miami County Planning and Building Commission to change its wind ordinance and approve stricter setbacks from property lines.
RES said earlier this month it has elected not to sign road and economic-development agreements with the county due to technical challenges associated with interconnecting the project with the electric grid.
The company said that meant the project was on hold.
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