budget committee

The Washington County Budget Committee agreed Wednesday to proceed with the cleanup of five properties that had been put on hold for a year.

Washington County’s Budget Committee voted Wednesday to proceed with the court-ordered environmental cleanup of five properties, which has been deferred for nearly a year.

The county had placed those projects on hold while officials sorted out the legal hurdles and financial costs of dealing with unkept and hazardous properties. Budget Committee members agreed to resume those cleanups, and to add a shared office position to help the existing staff process new environmental complaints.

To do so, Commissioner Jim Wheeler made a motion for the committee to move $100,000 to an existing restricted fund for environmental cleanups. The money joins $15,000 already earmarked for the work.

Wheeler also made a motion to proceed with efforts to clean up five properties that have been subject to court action. The cost of that cleanup was previously estimated to total $50,000.

Finally, the committee approved a third motion to create a new clerical position — with its duties possibly split with the county’s veterans services office — to help process environmental cases.

Those resolutions are subject to final approval by the County Commission at its meeting on Sept. 28.

Wheeler told his colleagues the commission could “revisit” an additional request to increase the salary of Bobby France, Washington County’s general welfare and safety officer for property and dwellings, at a later time.

France, who is responsible for acting on complaints of overgrown and neglected properties, has repeatedly told county commissioners he needs additional staff to assist him in doing his job.

“There’s just so much more out there that needs to be cleaned up,” France said in July. “If I take a day off, the problem just gets worse.”

Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee approved a measure earlier this month that would have increased France’s pay as a result of asking him to supervise additional staff.

“Nobody has explained what the justification is for that kind of increase,” Wheeler said.

Budget Committee members said they believe the county has addressed many of the legal and cost issues that have plagued it in the past with a plan to speed up the reimbursement of court-ordered cleanups of private property.

The county will now recoup those costs by Trustee Rick Storey attaching a lien for the cleanup work to the property owner’s annual tax bill.

And the county no longer pays outside counsel for its legal work on Environmental Court cases. That work is now being handled in-house by County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson.