By Joseph Lekarczyk
Two executive sessions, one scheduled for the pre-meeting workshop, and the second one added to the end of the regular meeting's agenda, bookended Tuesday night's (Monday was Labor Day) Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting. Both executive session concerned strategies and legal advice having to do with the cost savings contract with Honeywell International for the performance of the wastewater treatment plant. In between the two executive sessions, Utilities, both rate increases and appeals, were the
main focus of evening's agenda.
Lyons Substation Supervisor Sgt. Bill Crist of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office was not able to make the meeting, so Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen gave a brief report in his stead. Traffic through town over the holiday weekend was, as expected, heavy but manageable. Ditto with the volume of people enjoying the Town's parks. Apparently there was an altercation in LaVern Johnson Park between two women, both of whom sustained minor injuries. Neither of the combatants elected to seek medical assistance after they were separated and the dust settled, but both were issued summons and will be appearing before the Lyons judge next month.
Simonsen also informed the Board that the design for the new public works building was at fifty percent, the grading for the same is going well, and she hope that the ground breaking for the new building will begin later this fall, with the project to be completed by late 2019. She also reported that excavation for the McConnell Ponds recovery project should also begin in the next few weeks. After a meeting with officials from FEMA, Simonsen said she was also hopeful that the historical/cultural survey done in Bohn Park a few years ago when the Town of Lyons and Boulder County were looking into a possible affordable housing project there would be acceptable to FEMA, and thus save the Town time and money in the Bohn Park Phase 2 recovery efforts. The County and the Town have reached an accord on the relocation of the water main running along Apple Valley Road, so that project should also be getting the green light. According to Simonsen, Smokin' Dave's BBQ will be constructing a patio for outdoor dinning along the front of the establishment. In an effort to get bicycle traffic off of the highway coming into and out of town, CDOT has shown some “interest” in perhaps getting involved with the Town's multi-use trail running from the Welcome to Lyons sign out to the intersection of Rtes. 66/36. In addition to the recent surface work on the bridge near that intersection, apparently CDOT constructed an underpass and ledge that will accommodate bicycles and pedestrians if and when a trail is constructed. (The Town is still in negotiations with several of the ditch companies to secure rights-of-way for the trail.) Simonsen also reported that CDOT has an interest in creating bike lanes in both directions along Rte. 7 heading toward Allenspark in order to ease some of the bicycle traffic currently using Rte. 36 toward Pinewood Springs and Estes Park.
Utilities & Engineering Board Chairman Aaron Kaplan updated the Trustees on the dismal figures for the wastewater fund. Because of increased costs at the wastewater treatment plant the fund is running at annual deficit of approximately $358K, and at the current rate the fund's reserves will be depleted by 2024. Kaplan felt that some of this deficit could be mitigated by administrative belt tightening (which Simonsen disputed), surcharges and fines for businesses not complying with pre-treatment measures (i.e., grease traps etc.), and surcharges for customers in areas that require lift stations. But the bottom line is that a substantial across the board rate increase is needed to get the fund back on a sustainable track and keep it in the black. The problem is how to structure it so as to soften the financial hit for those least able to afford the increase. Kaplan's figures indicated that if the user fee was increased by eleven dollars per 1000 gallons (The average residential use is 3000 gallons per month so the increase would be $33 per month) the deficit problem would be solved immediately. However, he said his group didn't think that would go over well with the public, and recommended a use rate of $4 per 1000 gallons for 2019, and a $1.50 per 1000 gallons increase each of the following three years. No one on the Board was excited about the prospect of a rate increase, but all agreed is was necessary. Mayor Connie Sullivan floated the idea of spreading the increase between the base rate and the use rate, everyone wanted any rate increase to coincide with a pre-treatment ordinance that would penalize non-compliant users, and Trustee Michael Karavas reminded his fellow Trustees that any future water tap waivers that the Board might grant would directly, and adversely, affect the fund and any capital improvement projects that needed to be addressed. So, there will be a wastewater treatment rate increase coming in the near future, it is just a question of how much, and how it is structured.
No one from the public spoke to an ordinance regarding maintenance of trees and other vegetation (weeds) within Town right-of-ways. Trustee Mark Browning grilled the Town Attorney Brandon Dittman and Simonsen about procedure and enforcement, and felt strongly that, “If we are going to hold a substantial stick over the public's head, we should provide a carrot as well.” He felt the Town should re-introduce the practice of curb-side pick up and disposal of yard/tree limb debris. Browning also pointed out that in his opinion it was “hypocritical” that this ordinance would exempt certain Town owned properties; he added it was a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. He and Simonsen got into it over the issue of the Town's abandoned water treatment plant in Apple Valley being in Boulder County and not in Lyons, and whether FEMA would currently allow any weed mitigation in Bohn Park and if the weeds, in affect, provided erosion control. Sullivan stated that the ordinance was in line with most other municipalities when it comes to maintaining rights-of-ways, and suggested that those least able to afford third party mitigation, or the elderly who might not be able to physically do the work could get help from volunteer groups. Trustee Wendy Miller was adamant that this ordinance would put an undue burden, financial and physical, on those least able to carry it. Trustee Barney Dreistadt (he, Browning and Karavas have been active members of the Lyons Volunteers) rued the fact that these days when a call for volunteers went out, only a couple of people are showing up. The ordinance was passed in a five to two vote. Browning and Miller casted the dissenting votes.
The public hearing to approve a conditional use review for a detached ADU at 227 Park Street was continued, per the owner's request, until the October 1 meeting. The owner wanted to wait to see what FEMA was going to approve vis-a-vis the replacement of the Second Avenue Bridge, as it might effect the alley access to the property. Sullivan wanted the applicant to be told that this will be the last postponement, and that he will have to withdraw the request and reapply if the situation with the bridge isn't finalized by October 1.
The consent agenda, consisting of a resolution accepting the permanent donation of an outdoor public art piece; and a resolution authorizing a second amendment to the professional services agreement with Eidos Architects for work on the public works building was approved. Two other resolutions, one to award a bid for the grading at the public works building, and the other approving an IGA with Boulder County concerning a mail ballot drop off box and security surveillance camera at Town Hall were pulled and later approved after short clarifying discussions. The first reading of an ordinance pertaining to the modification of the outdoor activity overlay commercial districts was pulled and continued to the September 17 BOT meeting.
Next up was a utilities appeal hearing for Lyons Properties (aka Riverbend and Wee Casa). Both Trustees Juli Waugh and Wendy Miller immediately recused themselves from the proceedings (Waugh because she is married to a partner of Lyons Properties, and Miller because she does work for Wee Casa) and left the chambers. Kenyon Waugh, of Wee Casa, presented the Board with a Powerpoint presentation. He said Lyons Properties requested the appeal because it was “impossible to work on this (with Town staff) in an unemotional way.” He first pointed out that there were three adjacent properties involved, a rental property, a private residence, and the Riverbend/Wee Casa wedding venue, and the rental property and the private residence were not part of the dispute. He added that $32,440.03 of undisputed utility fees have been paid in full, leaving $22,731.58 in dispute. Waugh added that Lyons Properties/Wee Casa have agreed to, and entered into a 12-month payment plan for the balance due, pending the outcome of the appeal. He cited multiple billing errors, a lack of communication, and changes in the code that have resulted in the dispute. The five main points of contention are: 1. Why nine sewer taps are needed instead of one; 2. Duplicate electric base fees on three bills; 3. Charges for services not provided; 4. Math errors; and 5. Late fees charged for accounts that are current and up to date. According to Waugh these five issues total just under $15,000.00 in disputed fees and over charges. It was also pointed out that despite the fact that the electrical infrastructure for the tiny homes at Wee Casa were “green tag” (meaning they were approved by the Town's building inspector) the electricity was not turned on for an extended time period, forcing Waugh to contract with a third party to supply a generator for electricity for his customers, at a cost of $60,000. Waugh also cited a $20,000 bill for the cost of retrenching an electrical line to install a ground after a miscommunication about current code between Town staff and himself. All of these costs were absorbed by Wee Casa. A big sticking point seemed to be the calculation of the need for nine sewer taps. Lyons Properties business partner Mike Whipp said he has repeatedly asked for documentation in the Town code that would justify former Town Engineer Jim Blankenship's opinion that a four to one ratio (tiny homes to wastewater tap) was in order. To date, Whipp says that request has been ignored.
For its part, the Town stood by Blankenship's calculations, saying that ratio is what was used for the RV hookups in LaVern Johnson Park, and indicated that the nine taps had previously been reduced from ten. Deputy Clerk Dolores Vasquez, who has met with Waugh to go over all the utility bills, admitted that there had indeed been several mistakes in the accounting. She cited the turn over in the utility billing clerk position since the flood (four people in five years), and glitches with the billing software as possible explanations for some the math mistakes, late fees, and overcharges. As far as fees for services not provided (security lights), Vasquez said she was not aware one way or the other if in fact there were security lights on the property. Neither Simonsen nor Town Engineer Joe Kubala could offer an explanation as to why the electric wasn't turned on after the green tags were issued. Simonsen said the miscommunication between staff, Blankenship, and FEMA about the code change in the flood way was “unfortunate.”
The Trustees had a lot of information and documents to digest, and Sullivan closed the public hearing portion of the appeal, and asked that the matter be continued to the September 17 BOT meeting.
The Trustees then discussed budget implications and strategic planning, and approved a development plan agreement with the Lyons Regional Library District. Trustee reports were given, and the executive session was called. The meeting was adjourned, sometime after 1 a.m.