Star Valley is balking at an estimated $2,000-a-year cost of maintaining fire hydrants in The Knolls that the Hellsgate Fire District relies upon to provide fire protection for the community. The Star Valley Town Council last week debated whether it should pay for the system to deliver water for the protection in The Knolls now that it owns the water department.
The matter came before the council at its Feb. 5 meeting. Star Valley Water Department Director Robert Rippy told the council the pump that serves the six hydrants in The Knolls needs repair and ongoing maintenance.
“Fire pumps are very expensive. A kit is $1,600. A repack (to seal leaks) is $539,” Rippy told the council. He added given the amount of use in The Knolls, a repack would probably last one to two years.
He said it costs $800 for a kit to repair a fire hydrant and $100 for a gallon of hydrant paint.
Rippy estimates it would cost $2,000 a year for the “hard parts” to keep the pump and hydrants in good condition.
The system in The Knolls serves 352 users.
Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch said that Brooke Utilities never maintained the hydrants when it owned the water system, beyond repairing a hydrant when it was damaged pumping water to truck to other subdivisions.
Unfortunately, he said the fire district can’t afford to make the needed repairs.
“Our current stance is that we have no money,” said Hatch.
Hellsgate faces a $38,000 cut in the coming year, on top of the $400,000 cut in the past two years. Only a federal grant averted even deeper cuts.
“Our finances are maxed out,” said Hatch.
Hatch suggested the town considering imposing an annual fee on people living within 500 feet of a hydrant to cover the maintenance costs.
Star Valley set its water rates to maintain the water system and its only legal obligation is to provide potable water, said Town Manager Tim Grier.
“It’s the staff’s position that Hellsgate should be putting in its part. We should be looking to the district for part or all of the cost.
“We feel we should be working with Hellsgate and not be combative,” Grier said.
Councilor Vern Leis said the council needs a firm number that includes everything before it makes a decision on whether to share the cost or pass it on in its entirety.
“I feel uncomfortable doing it piecemeal,” Leis said. Councilor Barbara Hartwell suggested the council consider Rippy’s costs a common sense number and based on that number ask Hellsgate to share the expense.
“Hellsgate has a tax and a lot of people are upset with it. We have to live within a budget and right now it’s not within the budget to maintain a fire system,” Councilor George Binney said.
Larry Cory, a board member with the Hellsgate Fire District, said if the pump in The Knolls goes down, the district would be responsible. The fire district would then rely on water tenders in case of a fire.
“The Knolls has six hydrants supported by the entire district,” Cory said.
Hartwell said she liked Grier’s idea of getting together with Hellsgate representatives and talking about the issue in more detail. “No decision should be made tonight,” she said.
Hatch said that the cost of maintaining the hydrants poses a tough financial issue. He said it’s not really fair for residents that live in Tonto Village, for example, to help pay for hydrants when they don’t get a discount on their insurance or any benefit from them, he added.
Hatch said Hellsgate is 100 percent in support of the town owning the water department and understands it has its own budget problems. “We are trying to come up with a working plan,” he said.
Reporter Alexis Bechman contributed to this article.