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Various items related to the sewer; Building permit granted through city council

The Tetonia City Council met for their regular meeting last Monday, April 9th.  The inadequacies of the city's sewer system was the reoccurring theme throughout the evening, illustrating how future growth and development in the city is dependent upon whether the city can provide basic infrastructure.  

Hansen to Provide City Services to His Own Property
Bob Hansen, owner of Majestic Mountain Iron, inquired whether the city would run a sewer line to his commercial property on 2nd Street.  When the city's sewer lines were originally buried, a line was not provided to this property. The city was trying to keep costs down by not running the sewer line to empty lots.  The property was part of a series of contiguous lots owned by one individual who had a connection to their home on only one of the lots.

After paying for water and sewer connection fees over a year and a half ago, Hansen sought the city's partnership in burying a line that would serve his property as well as future residents in that area.  Both Hansen and the council concluded on Monday that Hansen would have to bear the cost of providing a line that would meet his needs.  This scenario is not unique to Tetonia and should serve as a warning to decision makers about allowing landowners to sell off portions of their property that do not have access to services.  It does not serve the interest of the city or future landowners who innocently assume that the city will provide services to them if they live in the city.  Some cities require landowners who want to sell a portion of their property to go through a truncated planning and zoning application process.  This process is meant to make decision makers aware of such issues and ensure the future landowner knows what he or she is buying.

City Continues Precedent in Prepaying Connections
Another city landowner asked the city council if he could buy water and sewer connections for his property.  He acknowledged that the city's talk about raising connection fees motivated him to purchase these connections now, even though he won't need them until later.  The city considered how to proceed with the request.  All new connections must currently be approved by the DEQ, as the city is operating its inadequate sewer system under a consent order from the DEQ.  The city decided to let the landowner pay the connection fee now and if the DEQ does not approve the new connection, the city will simply refund his money.  

This decision should greatly concern the residents of Tetonia.  The city must build an expanded sewer system in order to protect the health of residents, as well as to provide connections for future development.  The cost of the expansion will be covered in several ways, including debt financing, an election bond, and connection fees.  The city is considering raising sewer connection fees to better reflect the cost of providing the services.  If the city does not pay for future sewer connections through higher connection fees, residents will have to subsidize future development by paying a larger bond.  Therefore, those who prepay at today's rates for connections that will be used years from now will not pay the full cost of receiving those city services due to inflation and increasing costs specific to the making new sewer connections.
One council member wondered what the city should do about the connections that were prepaid several years ago and are still unused.  He asked how long the city should allow people to hold a right to connect before they lose that right.  The city should look at resolving this problem immediately, by either requiring that all prepaid connections be used within a specified time period, or by requiring those who prepay to pay the difference between the connection fee they paid and the fee in place once they decide to connect.  

City Moves Forward with New Sewer System Plans
The city also met with Ted Hendricks of The Development Company (a division of East-Central Idaho Planning & Development Association (ECIPDA)), and with the engineers who are designing the city's sewer system, Schiess and Associates, to discuss financing the city's future sewer system.  The council discussed raising connection fees for both sewer and water services  and the next steps in moving toward a bond election to help pay for the system.  The city then held an executive session in accordance with the Open Meeting Law, which allows executive sessions to be held “to conduct deliberations concerning labor negotiations or to acquire an interest in real property which is not owned by a public agency…” (Idaho Code 67-2345 (1)(c)).  

City Approves Building Permit
The city approved a building permit for Ronald Berry.  The permit allows a mobile home to be placed on property owned by Berry.  The city does not have a planning administrator so all building permits must be submitted to the planning and zoning commission and then approved by the council.  The council chose to review the building permit application on Monday without a recommendation from their planning and zoning commission after the commission failed to have a quorum at their last two meetings.  Although building permits would ideally be reviewed administratively, the city's ordinances currently require a more involved process.  In order to establish consistency and fairness for all applicants, the city should either allow the process they have in their ordinances to work or they should change their ordinances and hire a staff position to administer building permits.

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