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City attorney hired; Utility connection fees raised; new P&Z requests; Comprehensive Plan

At the Monday, May 14th meeting, the Tetonia City Council took important steps toward better community planning.  The city hired a part-time city attorney, increased sewer and water connection fees, raised monthly sewer rates, and discussed how to assist the planning & zoning commission in updating the city’s comprehensive plan.

City Hires Part-Time Attorney
The city council unanimously voted to hire Joette Lookabaugh as a part-time attorney for the city.  Ms. Lookabaugh is the attorney for the cities of Ashton and Sugar City as well.  A conversation later in the meeting illustrates the city’s need for an attorney. Bob Foster, owner of the Teton Mountain View Lodge and RV Park, came to talk to the council about his application from two years ago to annex his property into the city.  Council Member Jardine said Mr. Foster’s annexation application had been approved by the council after a public hearing, but the subsequent step of hiring an attorney to legally write up the annexation for the city records and notice it in the paper were never completed.  The property was therefore never legally annexed.

With a part-time attorney on city staff, the city council will have the capacity to follow through in matters like these. We are happy to see the city taking such a step as Ms. Lookabaugh will undoubtedly provide great assistance as the city continues to face legal questions brought up by rapid development.  

City Raises Utility Connection Fees
The city council unanimously voted to raise sewer and water connection fees, as well as monthly sewer rates for users within the city limits.  A copy of the adopted resolution is available from the city.  The sewer connection fee was raised from $1,000 to $4,500. Water connection fees were increased from $2,500 to $4,500.  The city followed the practices of Victor and Driggs by setting new connection fees for new users outside the city limits at 1.5 times those charged within the city limits.  Monthly sewer rates increased from $25.18 to $40 for those with ¾ inch service.  The city will also charge larger sewer users higher rates.

Increasing the sewer connection fees will help pay for an expanded sewer system, while ensuring that current residents do not have to bear the cost of services demanded by future growth.  Increased water connection fees will provide a reserve of funds to pay for capital improvements as they are needed.  Increased water fees will also help the city acquire an additional drinking water source to serve future growth.  The city council noted that none of the residents who commented during the public hearing for the increases were opposed to the change.

The city council also discussed other matters related to plans for a sewer expansion.  The city voted to hired Moore, Smith, Buxton & Turcke to handle the sewer bond election.  The law firm is one of only a few law firms that handle bond elections within the state.  The city council also set a date for the first of three informational meetings about the sewer bond election.  The date was set for Thursday, May 31st at 7:30.  The council hopes to hold the meeting in the city firehouse.

City Council Discusses New P&Z Requests
Two planning and zoning commissioners were present to discuss new requests made to the Tetonia Planning and Zoning Commission at their last regular meeting.  The requests included an annexation and zone change by Paul Howarth, a zone change by Scott Montgomery (representing City Council Member Orville Armstrong), and Bob Foster’s plans to increase the capacity of the Teton Mountain View Lodge & RV Park.  Mr. Foster was unsure if he needed a building permit.  The city had only received completed applications for one of the requests (Paul Howarth’s annexation), and the new city attorney, Joette Lookabaugh, commented that there is no reason for the city to put people on the planning and zoning meeting agenda until they have completed an application.

Discussions between the planning and zoning commission and the city council about planning and zoning requests bring up important procedural issues.  Decisions pertaining to specific applications are quasi-judicial in nature because they affect individual rights and therefore fall under due process.  As such, it is imperative that both the planning and zoning commissioners and the city council members maintain impartiality when considering new applications for annexations, zone changes, or subdivisions.  

Once an application is submitted to the planning and zoning commission, it is inappropriate for the city council to discuss the application with the planning and zoning commission until the commission has held a public hearing and made a recommendation for approval or denial of the application.  In this way, the council maintains impartiality.  At Monday’s city council meeting, a planning and zoning commissioner went as far as to say that Paul Howarth’s request to annex property looked like a good thing for the city.  This kind of discussion threatens to erode impartiality and should not take place.

One of our local county commissioners has been accused of violating quasi-judicial procedure by talking to planning and zoning commissioners about issues on the planning and zoning agenda.  It is our understanding that her communications were not illegal as they were pertaining to legislative matters, not individual applications.  This case, however, illustrates how difficult it can be to walk the fine line between communicating with other officials and protecting the due process of individuals.  

City Moves Toward Updating Comprehensive Plan
On November 20, 2006, the planning and zoning commission passed a motion to move ahead with updating the city’s comprehensive plan and asked the city council for a budget to fund the work.  At that time the commission hoped to complete an update of the comprehensive plan by May 2007.  It is now the first week of May 2007, and the city has yet to begin the process.

Two planning and zoning commissioners were present at Monday night’s meeting to ask how much funding would be available for updating the comprehensive plan.  The council members stated there isn’t a line item in the budget for planning and zoning, but there should be.  The commissioners said that local resident, Dave Zimmerman, is interested in serving as an interim chairman of a citizen committee to update the comprehensive plan.  The commissioners expressed that they would be starting the process immediately and hope to have a draft to the city council by November.

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