By Joseph Lekarczyk
Seven public hearings. In one night. That is what the Board of Trustees (BOT) were up against at Monday evening's meeting; plus an executive session!
Perhaps knowing that they had a long night ahead of them, the Trustees moved relatively quickly through the early agenda items. Lyons Substation Supervisor Sgt. Bill Crist informed the Board that his people had conducted an emergency training drill earlier in the day at Lyons Middle/Senior High School, and that it went well. His office is currently “at or just below” the budget for extra duty patrols, and he reported that, “we are gearing up for the Parade of Lights.” Finance Director Anna Canada used grafts and charts to show the revenues and expenditures for the month of October, and the Year-to-Date. Things look good
in all the funds, with the exception of that troublesome wastewater fund (more on that later). Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen gave the Trustees a heads up to expect a “cash flow crunch” in 2019 because of the timing of the reimbursements for various flood recovery projects. But she also noted that because of a couple of recent excellent reports by auditors, she is confident that the set-aside funds for these projects will not be “clawed back.” She is hoping that talks with state officials and those at DOLA will help expedite the reimbursements. Mayor Connie Sullivan thanked and congratulated Simonsen, Canada, and the rest of Town staff for their diligence in keeping all the financial gymnastics on track.
Paul Frysig, owner of Western Stone, addressed the Board during audience business. He understood that he has been in negotiations with the Town concerning the Town owned land his company has been leasing for the past sixteen years. The parcel is one that is being considered for a connecting trail along the river between the McConnell Bridge and the Rtes. 66/36 intersection. Frysig claimed he unexpectedly found a notice from the Town Attorney giving him fourteen days to remove the building and vacate the property. He was asking the Board to consider one of three other options: extend the time to remedy until September of 2019 (hard to comply in the dead of winter); purchase the building (the Town has a need for such); or purchase an adjacent property (with a house on it) that he owns. Sullivan suggested he meet with Simonsen to see if a mutual solution can be worked out.
Toby Russell from the Sustainable Futures Commission (SFC) was pleased to report that the Town has purchased some bear-proof trash receptacles for the Main and High Street areas. He also gave an update on the progress of the single hauler (curbside/recycling) situation. It seems there might have been a conflict of interest issue with Eco-Cycle providing information for the Town's request for proposal (RFP), so now the SFC will ask for a RFI (request for information) rather than a RFP, from all the interested trash haulers. Russell expects the SFC will get the RFI by the new year and will then put out a RFP thereafter. Stay tuned.
Then it was on to the public hearings. The first one concerned increasing service rates for water/wastewater (wastewater fees are based on winter water usage when residents are not watering lawns/gardens). Aaron Kaplan from the Utilities & Engineering Board (UEB) and Town Engineer Joe Kubala recommended leaving the base rate unchanged, and increasing the user fee four dollars per thousand gallons. According to Kubala, the average water used by residential customers is three thousand gallons per month, which would mean about a twelve dollar per month increase per household. It was stated however, that even with this increase the troublesome wastewater fund would still be operating at an annual deficit of over $300K (most of which is the debt service for the new wastewater treatment plant). Kaplan explained that in order to get the fund back in the black and on a sustainable footing, the needed increase would be more in the eight to twelve dollar per thousand gallon range. The Trustees, to a person, blanched at the quote. Several people spoke to the rate increase; they were concerned with the affect on senior citizens, putting the burden on residents instead of non-complying businesses, transparency in the goings on of the wastewater treatment plant, and other related subjects. All saw the need but none were wild about a rate increase.
There was quite a bit of discussion about “kicking the can down the road,” and “ripping off the band-aid” versus “delaying the pain.” And for a while it looked like Sullivan, Mayor Pro Tem Barney Dreistadt, and Trustee Juli Waugh were in the rip the band-aid camp and get the fund back on track. Dreistadt pointed out that by delaying a rate increase, or by approving one that didn't get the fund back in the black, it was delaying the inevitable and making the situation worse as the fund reserves continued to be drawn down. Trustees Wendy Miller and Mark Browning understood the situation, but were loath to lay that kind of increase on the public. Miller was worried about low-income families and the elderly on fixed incomes as was Browning, who also thought that waiting to see if a resolution with the ongoing Honeywell International lawsuit and/or the sale of Town property in the Eastern Corridor to developers might ease the pinch on the wastewater situation. Trustee Michael Karavas was Sphinx-like in his comments, and Trustee Jocelyn Farrell was not in attendance so it looked like it could come down to a three to three vote with no action taken. A motion was finally made to approve the ordinance as is; Waugh suggested an amendment to increase the rate to eight dollars. More discussion ensued; positions shifted; and when the vote on the amendment was taken, it failed one to five (Waugh voted in the affirmative). The original motion (with the four dollar per thousand gallons rate increase) was approved. It was 9:15 p.m., one public hearing down, six to go.
The second public hearing had to do with creating a “high strength surcharge” for those who flush excessive BODs (Biologic Oxygen Demand, i.e., organic matter) down their drains and toilets. This pertained almost entirely to commercial customers. Sullivan announced that she had consulted with Town Attorney Brandon Dittman about a possible recusal because she and her husband own businesses that would be affected by this ordinance. She explained that it was no different than all the rest of the Board being residential customers and not having to recuse themselves from the previous rate hike discussion/vote. So Sullivan announced her conflict and indicated that she could still be fair and objective, which is all that is required by law. This particular stance did not sit well with one person in the public who spoke and indicated that it would be preferable, for the sake of appearances, for Sullivan to recuse herself. Another protracted discussion ensued. This one about industry standards versus actual readings, random testing, side streaming of BODs, allowing exemptions, grease traps, etc. At 10:15 p.m., it was decided that a workshop on the issue was needed to answer all the questions (Sullivan admitted to twenty-five herself). A motion was made to continue the public hearing to a date certain (the December 17 meeting) with the workshop scheduled for December 3. Two public hearings down, five to go.
The third public hearing having to do with wastewater utility service concerned “miscellaneous amendments” to the code. This was quickly passed without public comment or much discussion. Three pubic hearings down, four to go.
Fortunately, the remaining four public hearings had to do with the 2019 budget. Basically they were “house cleaning” items that are required by the state each year when the budget is set to be approved. Designating and setting aside reserves; summarizing revenues and expenditures for each fund; appropriating monies for various funds for the 2019 budget year; and levying property taxes (no increases here) to help defray cost for the 2019 budget year. All four were approved with no public comment in short order. Seven public hearings down, none to go!
The consent agenda, consisting of the first reading of an ordinance creating definitions for large and small accessory structures and creating a conditional use permit requirement; a resolution to uphold and to over turn a decision by the building inspector for a property at 401 Second Avenue; a resolution to accept improvements and close out contracts with Zak Dirt for work on the McConnell Bridge; the November accounts payable, and the November 5, BOT meeting minutes, were passed without any discussion. A seventh item, the awarding of a contract to Kirsche Construction, Inc. for the public works replacement building was pulled and then quickly approved after Karavas advised Kubala to “keep a sharp eye on this one.”
There were no items under general business, the Trustees gave their reports, and then went into executive sessions to discuss and strategize about the possible purchase, acquisition, transfer, or sale of real property in the Eastern Corridor (4651 Ute Highway) and within the Town of Lyons.