Ditch Petition Process

Ohio Revised Code Section 6131 allows property owners to petition the County for drainage improvements. Residents should be aware the petition may result in assessments for the construction and maintenance of any drainage improvement approved during this process. 

The Process

Initiation of Petition

 Any landowner (including a private or public corporation, board of township trustees, board of education, mayor or legislative authority, director of any department, office or institution of the state, and the trustees of any state, county, or municipal public institution) can file a petition with the clerk of the county council to construct an “improvement.”

The petition must:

 State the proposed benefits;

State that it will be conducive to the public welfare,

Include a description of the type of work (“improvement”) petitioned for; i.e. may ask to locate, clean, remove obstructions from, construct, reconstruct, straighten, deepen, widen, alter, box, tile, fill, wall, or arch any ditch, drain, watercourse, floodway creek, run, or river or to change the course, location, or terminus thereof, or may construct a levee, wall, embankment, jetty, dike, dam, sluice, revetment, reservoir, holding basin, control gate, breakwater, or other structure for control of water (herein referred to as “project”).

Petitioner must also file a $500 bond plus $2 for each parcel of land in excess of 200 parcels.

Notice and Hearing

After filing petition, clerk gives notice to the county council and the county engineer, which then must view the proposed project

Within 10-90 days the council must hold its first hearing.

The clerk must mail a legal notice of the first hearing to all owners in the watershed.  The notice will also indicate that all costs of engineering, construction and future maintenance will be assessed to the owners.      

The clerk also must publish a legal notice in one newspaper of general circulation in the area, stating the nature and location of the project and the date, time and location of the view and first hearing.

Owners opposed to the project may file remonstrances against the granting of the improvement and state their reasons.  The applications for remonstrances may be filed with the clerk of county council at any time before a final order is made confirming the assessments and finalizing the contracts for the construction of the project.

At the conclusion of the first hearing, the county council grants the prayer of the petition, determines route and termini of the proposed improvement, orders the council fiscal officer to transfer no more that 25% of preliminary estimate from the general revenue funds to improvement fund, orders the engineer to prepare reports, plans, and schedules on a date certain which is selected at the conclusion of the first hearing, county council adjourns the hearing until the date it has fixed for filing of reports, plans, and schedules.

Engineer makes plans, maps, and profiles and an estimate of the cost of construction and recommend the maintenance district in which the improvement will be placed and transmits plans to the director of natural resources and board of directors of any conservancy district in which ditch may lie.  Those agencies must approve or make recommendations within 30 days.

Engineer submits to county council the plans with approval or recommendations of ODNR etc., and “shall take notice of the approval recommendations and shall authorize the engineer to make any changes or alterations that in the judgment of the county council are necessary or desirable”.  Engineer must file changes or approved plans, maps and profiles with clerk.

Engineer prepares specifications for construction of Improvement.  Engineer shall also specify a width of temporary easement for construction which includes specifications for erosion and sediment control sod or seeded strip from 4-15 feet wide.  Engineer makes estimates of cost of excavation and cost of materials, cost of inspecting work as it progresses.

Engineer prepares schedule of assessments identifying each private owner of land to be benefited by proposed improvements, and amount to be assessed to each tract.  Engineer must also estimate the value of land or other property necessary to be taken and the damages to be sustained by any owners as a result of the construction and maintenance of the improvement.  Engineer prepares a schedule of damages identifying owners alleged to be damaged, amount of damages, and value of land or other property necessary to be taken.

Engineer files completed maps, profiles, plans, schedules and reports with clerk by date chosen at the conclusion of the First Hearing. County Council fixes a date for a Final hearing on the report 25 to 90 days after reports, plans, and schedules are filed.  Clerk sends out certified notice to individuals who appear in the engineer’s schedule of assessments and damages, and publish legal notice.  Notice must state that claims for compensation or damages must be filed with the clerk prior to the date of final hearing.

Owners may file exceptions to engineer’s schedule of assessment, or claims for damages or compensation, including claims for compensation for land or other property necessary to be taken, before the final hearing.

At the Final Hearing, County Council shall hear evidence offered by owners regarding the engineer’s estimate of damages and upon any claim filed for compensation or damages.  The county council shall find and determine the amount of damages to which any owner is entitled, and shall also find and determine the fair value of any land or any other property to be taken for said improvement.  An appeal may be taken from the order of the county council refusing the allowance of compensation or damages or allowing compensation or damages if the amount awarded is less than the fair value of the land or property necessary to be taken.

At the Final Hearing, the county council shall also hear any application for a change in route, course or termini of proposed improvement, a change in the nature, kind, or extent of the work to be done.  If the county council makes any changes that increase the cost of improvement or estimate of damages and compensation, the Final Hearing shall be continued until the engineer changes the schedule, and the owners affected are notified of the changes.

At Final Hearing, the county council shall review and reconsider the former order made by it finding favor of the improvement and shall either affirm its former order and proceed to confirm the assessments and order the letting of the contract, or it shall set aside its former order and dismiss the petition.  County council must consider factors set forth in stature (RC 6131.21).  If the petition is dismissed, owners may appeal as provided in RC 6131.25. 

At Final hearing, if former order is affirmed, the county council must also hear evidence for or against proposed assessment and competent evidence on the question of benefits. County council may amend or approve assessments, and order Engineer to receive bids for construction, fix date, time, and place for receiving bids not less than 25 days from date of order.  Engineer and prosecuting attorney shall prepare contracts with bidders and forms of bid guarantees per RC 153.54.  Any owner opposed to the granting of the petition or to further proceedings in the improvement or who claims assessment exceeds benefit, may appeal as provided in RC 6131.25.

At Final Hearing, county council shall determine how long a period of time shall be given to owners to pay assessments (no fewer than 2 semi annual installments or more than ten semi annual installments if general funds are used.)       

Appeal does not prohibit Engineer from receiving and tabulating bids, but stays Engineer from taking any further action on the bids.  Appeal bond of $500 must be filed.  The court of common please, on appeal, shall hear matters appealed de novo.  An appeal shall bring into the court all the owners who in any way may be interested or affected by the matter appealed.  The court, exercising equitable jurisdiction, shall hear all matters appealed, except an appeal from an order allowing or refusing to allow compensation or damages.

Trial by Jury. On appeal from an order made by the county council allowing or refusing to allow compensation or damages, the owners interested shall have the right of trial by jury, just compensation or damages shall be awarded, as provided in the Ohio constitution. 

Upon acceptance of contract work, Engineer files with county fiscal officer a property plat showing general location of improvement and description of the width of the permanent easement for maintenance.