Jack Ronald – Publisher
The Commercial Review
Jay County Commissioners gave a tentative “thumbs up” Monday to joining a class action lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.
Subject to a contract review by attorney Bill Hinkle, the county will join Indianapolis and dozens of other cities and counties, engaging the Indy law firm of Cohen and Malad in the class action suit as a response to the opioid crisis that has staggered the Midwest.
“I’ve been frustrated this past year” as the county has struggled to deal with addiction and overdoses, said commissioners president Chuck Huffman.
“Cities and counties are bearing the cost of this crisis,” said Lynn Toops of Cohen and Malad.
She noted that at its peak 139 prescriptions for opioid painkillers were being written for every 100 people in the county.
“That’s how big the problem was,” said Toops.
And from prescription painkillers, she said, “there’s a natural transition to heroin.”
Toops said the class action suit is now before a court in Cleveland, which is trying to consolidate hundreds of such lawsuits filed on behalf of local government around the country.
“This is very early on in this litigation,” she said.
Ultimately the goal of the legal action is two-fold: To recover some of the costs incurred by local government — everything from the costs of incarceration to the expense of doses of naloxone — and to change behavior through educational initiatives and improved treatment for those swept up by drug use.
“There’s not enough (treatment) centers in Indiana,” said Toops. “There’s not enough in the U.S.”
She noted that Cohen and Malad is taking on the case on a contingent basis, meaning that the firm will only be paid if the case is settled or otherwise resolved. If there is no recovery, there is no fee, she told commissioners.
In some ways, the effort is similar to the class action litigation against the tobacco industry.
“But this has really never been done before,” Toops said.
Commissioners continued to struggle Monday with concerns about Millers Branch and its impact on flooding in Portland.
A number of engineering studies have been conducted, and a meeting is planned for March with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers who will be making yet another study of flooding issues along the Salamonie River.
One study by the engineering firm of Butler, Fairman and Seufert called for creating a detention pond on land owned by the Gildersleeve family along county road 100 North near Morton Street extended.
But commissioner Barry Hudson said that proposal is a non-starter.
“You can’t afford to buy the land,” he said.
Instead, he urged that the engineers take a look at creating a similar pond or enlarging an existing detention pond on land already controlled by the City of Portland.
Both commissioner Mike Leonhard and Portland Mayor Randy Geesaman expressed support for deepening and widening an existing pond on the north side of road 100 North in Portland Industrial Park.
“We would like to try that,” said Geesaman. “It would be our cheapest approach.”
Some of that land is restricted as wetlands, but it may also be possible to add more detention areas.
“I don’t think we should make the final payment to Butler, Fairman and Seufert,” said Hudson, suggesting that there’s more work to be done if a workable solution is to be found. “We need a better report than that.”
Hudson also expressed frustration when it came to getting a clear answer on whether the Army Corps has jurisdiction over Millers Branch itself.
Geesaman had sought a definitive answer but said Monday, “They were pretty vague.”
Hudson said he’d read the response from the corps several times and still didn’t know what they were saying.
“You could not make sense of it,” he said.
Jay County Council president Jeanne Houchins informed commissioners there will be an appeal hearing before the council on a rate increase by the regional sewer district board.
The regional sewer district includes two rural areas, one near Portland and one near Dunkirk, which are served by the nearby municipal sewage treatment systems. Rate hikes at the municipal level translate into higher rates for those in the regional district.
The rate hikes received reluctant approval from the board this month, but rural Dunkirk homeowners are particularly unhappy about the potential impact.
An appeal hearing is set for March 15 in conjunction with a county council meeting, though the exact time has not yet been determined.
“The big issue is going to be what’s going to happen with Dunkirk,” said Hudson, who in his role as commissioner serves as president of the regional sewer district. “I think they’re going to be asking for the county to pick up some of the bill. … This has come up before with raising Dunkirk’s rates, and no one wants to do it. … You’re going to have a room full of people and they are not happy.”
In other business, commissioners:
•Approved the purchase of three computers from Cleaver Cabling and Consulting, Martinsville, for $2,121, which was the low quote.
•Approved the purchase of paper supplies from Progressive Office Products at a cost of $2,116. That was $56 higher than the low quote, but it was the only local quote received.
•Learned from Jay/Portland building inspector John Hemmelgarn that Jay County Fair Board will be submitting plans for a new grandstand to the state for review and approval. “They are working on that process,” Hemmelgarn said.
•Heard Hemmelgarn say he had received complaints from contractors that he was being “nit-picky” with inspections. “I’m doing what the state minimum is on my inspections,” he said.
•Approved a resolution requesting to be part of the governance structure of the East Central Regional Development Authority. Currently, three of the seats on the board are held by Delaware County and two by Henry County. There is a movement to change that to one seat apiece for Jay, Henry and Blackford counties and two seats for Delaware County.
•Approved the purchase of a server for Jay County Community Corrections from Progressive Office Products at a cost of $2,480, which was the low quote.