Attorneys for the city of St. Maries and Benewah County will work to establish a new contract in regards to the county’s portion of the wastewater collection system.

The city has retained Andy Doman, of Lake City Law of St. Maries, on the matter, and the county has retained Oxedine and Allen, of Osburn.

Wastewater from the county’s system is taken in by the city’s system to be treated. However, for the last several years, the city has also been operating and maintaining the system even though an interagency agreement doesn’t specifically outline such a duty.

Earlier this month, the St. Maries city council voted to no longer do maintenance and operation on the county’s system due to costs and a shortage of manpower. The city’s decision prompted Benewah County to send a letter to the city stating the city could not just abandon the operation and maintenance of the county’s system.

The city replied to the county’s letter Dec. 27 and the two entities came together with their attorneys Dec. 29 to figure out how to move forward.

Eventually, the county says it will take over the responsibility of the entire system. However, until the transition takes place, the two entities will work to develop an agreement for the interim.

Following an executive session Dec. 29, the county commissioners voted to approve several things: first, the commissioners authorized legal counsel to continue to work out the terms and agreement for a smooth transition; and they voted to continue to negotiate, through their attorneys, to establish a maintenance and operation agreement within 120 days (90 days to consider a long-term agreement and an additional 30 days for a transition period if the 90-day goal is not met).

Taking place immediately, which was also approved, includes the county taking over administration duties including sending out bills and collecting payments Jan. 1. The city already sent out statements for January and so the county will get everything in place to bill for February.

As part of the interim agreement, which still needs to be drawn up and approved by both entities, Mayor Tom Carver said the city will continue to maintain the county’s system, and bill the county for related costs.

There is a provision in place that any expense over $2,500 for maintenance or repairs must be pre-approved by the commissioners.

“We will continue to work towards an agreement and if we can’t do it in 90 days there is an additional 30 days to complete the transition,” Commissioner Phil Lampert said. “The county will take over administration. By February, bills will be coming from the county. Anything the city does they will invoice the county. The $2,500 limit makes it so they can’ t go out and spend a bunch of money.”

Commissioner Lampert said there is a lot that has to happen for the county to be able to take over the system including permits and licenses, people and equipment.

“We are trying to do what we can for the security and safety of all users within the county,” Commissioner Lampert said. “Until there is an agreement, this is all just in principle.”

Mayor Carver said the city will be working to gather all information to transfer administration to the county so they can be prepared to bill county users in February.

“We still have details to work out, but we will get the billing transferred over,” Mayor Carver said.

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