Council cuts delays, public input out of rate changes

PINEDALE – Everything from Pinedale’s water rates to costs to adopt animals will be included in a resolution that can be changed by the town’s council in a single motion and without notice to the public.

Following up on a public hearing on rates and fees at the March 26 Pinedale Town Council meeting, the council members voted unanimously on April 9 to move rates into one resolution. Previously, rates were in individual ordinances. To make a change, the council needed to notify the public with advertising and changes require three readings and a minimum of six weeks.

Initially, the resolution would have increased rates for a restaurant liquor license from $600 a year to $1,500 a year. It would have also required a tasting room and dispensary to pay $1,500 a year. Anyone requesting a 24-hour catering permit or a 24-hour malt beverage permit would also pay $10 per event.

Council member Matt Murdock said he had heard from the owner of Wind River Brewery, the only establishment in Pinedale with a tasting room, that $1,500 on top of the $1,500 for a bar and grill license was excessive. Murdock said the restaurant does tasting for beers brewed on site, but does not charge for the service. He said if the business has to pay for that, it would just stop offering the service.

Town magistrate Ruth Neely had also found in the liquor ordinance that any increases in liquor license fees require the city to notify those with a license two weeks in advance. The town’s attorney Ed Wood said, even if letters

were sent to license holders April 10, the resolution could not be approved until the council’s May 7 meeting.

Mayor Bob Jones said the fees were “chump change” to the city. He added some towns need the fees to operate, but that is not the case for Pinedale. He added he wouldn’t object to leaving the fees for the liquor licenses unchanged in order to get the resolution out of the way.

At that point, the council members amended the proposed resolution, lowering liquor license fees to previously set amounts and eliminating a fee for a tasting room from the resolution.

Water rates

Also debated were water rates for snowbirds. Council member Jim Brost said he felt it was unfair that anyone who has the city turn off water must pay $50, and then another $50 to have service resumed. He added it was a double hit because, even while water is shut off, the property owner is charged 25 percent of the minimum charge.

Jones said they charge the turn-off and turn-on fees because it requires a city employee to go to the location. He added before the fee, realtors abused the service, asking the city to turn off a vacant home’s water and then turn it on and off again every time they wanted to show a home.

“Adding the fee has reduced the calls significantly,” Jones said.

He said the minimum fee ensures water and sewer funds remain as enterprise accounts, which pays for the costs.

He warned the council also must start setting aside reserves for potential repairs and future upgrades to both water and sewer facilities.

A company will be in town next week and assess the value of the water and sewer systems. They will also dictate the amount needed in reserves for future repairs.

Council member Nylla Kunard said she understands the need for a reserve for emergencies, but she called proposed increases in water rates “excessive taxation.” She added setting aside $5 million for future repairs would be a hardship for households with single incomes.

When told the fees impacted about 100 homeowners, who have water turned off for the winter months, Jones challenged Brost to come up with the estimated lost $10,000 a year another way. He added eliminating the charge could be made up by increasing water rates to the remaining water users.

A resident in the audience shouted from the galley, “If they can afford two homes, they can afford the $100 fees to make sure they don’t freeze.”

In the final resolution, both fees were left in place at $50 and a minimum charge to disconnected properties was left on the books.

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