Twin Bridges moves to raise water, sewer rates

Twin Bridges Council approved two preliminary resolutions on Feb.13 to raise town water and sewer rates, subject to final council approval following advertisement and public hearings. The town seeks to raise rates to balance its water and sewer accounts and pay for upgrade projects.

Following discussion of different rate increase options, council voted 4-0 to approve an increase of the base water rate to $31 per month, and an increase to the base sewer rate to $46.89 per month. Councilmember Annette McLean was not present.

Councilmember Matt Greemore recommended a base rate increase rather than a new water usage rate. "There were two approaches," he said. "The first approach was to start charging for water that goes through the meter, on the sewer side. And we all know a majority of the water that you utilize in the summertime doesn't go there. So you're talking about a massive increase to everyone's bill. It made more sense to make an increase to the base to meet the needs that the system needed, because we should have been doing a buck or a buck-and-a-half since we started this process. If it comes up nine or 10 bucks, it's going to double the amount we need to fulfill the debt that we have, rather than paying for something you're not using, that does not go out through the system. It made more sense to me, in the long run, to continue maintaining that the way it is because it's not metered."

Greemore said past councils should have raised rates incrementally, once water and sewer budget issues became apparent.

Town Clerk/Treasurer Kristi Millhouse said the rate resolutions must be advertised for three weeks prior to the next council meeting.

"This will get us back on track," said Mayor Tom Hyndman.

Council approved a water bill reduction for the Madison County Fair Board, which incurred higher than normal bills due to a water line break under the Beaverhead River last summer. During its January meeting, council concurred that a bill adjustment would be appropriate because the county will bear most of the cost of installing a new, larger line to serve the fairgrounds area, which is a benefit to the town. Hyndman discussed the issue in the past month with both the fair board and the Madison County Commission.

The agreement allows the fair board to pay for half of the actual water loss, estimated at approximately $4,100, and the town will pay the remainder. The county also will pay $798 for excess electricity used as a result of the line break. In addition, the town will seek a $30,000 emergency Treasure State Endowment Program grant to contribute to the new water line project.

Council voted 3-0 to approve the agreement, with councilmember Joe Willauer abstaining. Hyndman said he would present the agreement to the county commission during its next meeting on Feb. 20.

Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson reported on law enforcement activity in Twin Bridges. “Things have been very quiet, overall,” he said. “It's been pretty quiet around the county from before Christmas up until to now. The deputies are plating catch-up from last summer with some of the cases.”

The sheriff reported an animal complaint, burglary and theft in Twin Bridges involved the same people and was being resolved. “The burglary was a storage shed where some tools had allegedly been taken. There are no suspects on that.” Another theft case involved employee theft from a business, which the sheriff said should be resolved soon.

Thompson said a suspicious person had been reported at the county fairgrounds. “He's gone,” said the sheriff. “We love those types of things being reported. I'm not against transients, people that are homeless, things like that. But, if they are creating a problem, unfortunately, not to stereotype, some of them do come through and go from place to place and they do create problems. We do want to know about that. I'd say, for the most part, they don't. We have a lot of transients come through in spring and summer, not a problem. But the ones that are doing certain things that are illegal, we do want to know about.”

Town attorney Lori Harshbarger reported letters had been sent to business owners regarding business licenses. “Five letters went out,” she said. “Only two have been signed for – they went out certified mail....Three of them have not, so we haven't heard from them yet.”

Harshbarger said she submitted a request for an attorney general's opinion letter last fall, and the attorney general's senior counsel has the request and is reviewing it. The request was made to clarify the mayor's authority with respect to the library.

The attorney reported the county planning office admitted an error in not informing the town of a recent conservation easement. “The whole problem with all this was that, in the development plan that was created, it was recognized that that ground only would be used for agriculture. Therefore, that sort of shut the door on any argument that the town would have against them placing a conservation easement on it.”

Hyndman said the development plan needs to be re-visited. “When we did our subdivision, we didn't know it at the time, but I believe they said 'where is your immediate expansion,' so we picked a few places,” he said. “By rights, we probably should have picked everything in the city limits and a buffer zone around the outer edge of it.”

Maintenance supervisor Sam Novich reported that water production, as recorded by meters at wells, has not matched and is often lower than the amount of water sold, as recorded by meters at customer service locations. “You've got 8,000 gallons that we've sold, that we didn't produce,” he said.

Novich recommended repair of water meters at town wells.

Hyndman reported the Montana League of Cities and Towns wants to hold a training event in Twin Bridges on May 21. “We just need a place to host it,” he said. “They'll pay for the lunch. We'll get the coffee and the donuts. But it'll be most of the day training for everybody. The surrounding towns – Whitehall, Sheridan, Virginia City, Ennis, Dillon, Lima – will be all invited. They're looking at between 30 to 40 people to come.”

Greemore recommended the senior center for the event. Hyndman said scheduling of the center could present a problem, and suggested the Yellow Rose, Wagon Wheel and the school as other possible locations for the training event.

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