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Chaos mars Bunker Hill meeting

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

There was a little of everything during the Bunker Hill Town Council meeting on Monday night: door slamming, gravel banging, yelling, and the dismissal of two council members for the evening all took place during the two-plus hour session.

“I think everyone was a little overwhelmed,” Bunker Hill Clerk Treasurer Andrea Newnum said later.

To start the night, council members introduced Bunker Hill resident Erica Murray as the replacement for former Town Council President, Carl Wade. Miami County Council President Ethan Manning recently appointed her to the position. 

Wade resigned in February after a citizen alerted the council that he was in violation of the Hatch Act, which states that no federal government employee shall hold a local government office position.

The council also nominated their new president, Rae Ann Panther – after three people were nominated.

Murray nominated Panther, Shanna Griffis nominated Luis Nino, and Nino nominated Griffis.

A citizen in attendance tried to nominate Nino, but nominations have to come from council members.

Since Panther only had two votes from Murray and Don Jaberg – which didn’t constitute a majority, according to Town Attorney Brandon Rush – Newnum made the decision.

Panther then moved to accept Jaberg as the continuing vice president.

Then, H. J. Umbaugh and Associates partner Eric Walsh shared the warning that the town would soon need to hike water rates to help finance a half million dollar plus payment to Wells Fargo that is due on May 1. 

“There is no magic pill,” Walsh said. “You have two months to figure this out.”

In 2002, Bunker Hill received a loan for $1.1 million to build a new water treatment plant. Walsh said.

In 2015, the town was in a financial crisis and couldn’t make the regular payments for the loan. They decided to change their payment structure with Wells Fargo to very low costs upfront and a balloon payment of $552,000 at the end, Walsh said. 

Griffis, Jaberg, Panther and Murray voted yes to approve the first reading of an ordinance increasing water rates. Nino voted against.  

The Bunker Hill Town Council will host a public hearing on the matter on April 9, and then afterwards hold a second reading of the proposed ordinance.

In other business, a citizen verbalized discontent over the feral cat situation in Bunker Hill. He said a lot of cats were congregating near an abandoned home on Elm Street.

Griffis said she has taken 17 cats to local veterinarians to get them fixed to help control the population, and has been in talks with management of Scratching Post Cat Rescue, the Peru-based nonprofit that houses and rehomes lost kitties.

A few other citizens said they’ve been experiencing water issues. Bunker Hill resident Wilma Little said her trailer keeps flooding, and it’s causing mold and mildew. Another resident said he’s put in new tile and septic in his home, yet it keeps flooding.

There was some debate on whether this was a drainage issue, or the nature of the land on the southern half of the county. It was not clear from the discussion if any action will be taken. 

Resident John “JR” Mercer, 22, requested permission to rent the parking lots near the old bank on Elmwood and Broadway in Downtown Bunker Hill to set up a trailer and tents for a new BBQ business.

The location provides ample parking, and other local businesses aren’t worried about competition, Mercer said.

The council determined the planning/building commissioners will need to give their approval, but the council members were all supportive of his prospects.

“That’s a great idea” Panther said.

“I think we need to get behind this full steam ahead,” Jaberg said.

If the trial run of the business is successful, Mercer may consider moving into one of the vacant buildings downtown, he said.

A few minutes later, the meeting quickly spiraled into a chaotic scene over an initially well-intentioned discussion about the goals of the Smalltown Crossroads committee to bring fun and funds to the cash-strapped town through community activities like the upcoming Bunker Hill Festival.

Panther dismissed both Nino and Griffis when they attempted to express opinions – after Panther already warned them and used her gavel in an attempt to bring order. 

“Thanks so much for your patience and endurance,” Panther told the public at the end of the session. 

The town council will be setting an executive meeting for the town marshal candidate in the first week of April.