Even after property tax rise, 10% shortfall looms
Facing a $176,000 deficit next year, the Hellsgate Fire Department is asking for the maximum increase in its assessed property tax. If the 9.8 percent increase is approved, the department will still face a $92,000 shortfall in its nearly million-dollar budget. Without a federal grant to help cover the difference, the department will have to lay off four engineers, said Fire Chief Gary Hatch.
Council approves 41 percent increase for some 350 customers
Most Star Valley water customers will see a 41 percent increase in their water bills starting July 1 after the town council approved a rate hike last week to make urgently needed repairs. The average water user’s base rate for a 5/8-inch hookup will go from $16 a month to $22.50 for the first 4,000 gallons of water. For those that cannot afford the increase, the town has included a hardship clause.
Council mostly doesn’t want more commercial development on highway
Drive east on Highway 260 and you will get a view of what photo enforcement cameras can buy. Blink and you may miss it. Despite raking in significant revenue from four speed cameras, Star Valley looks largely the same as it did seven years ago when it incorporated — a highway frontage blighted with old buildings, empty storefronts and mismatched signage. But Mayor Bill Rappaport and other town councilors say that lack of commercial development is just fine. They moved to the small community because of what it lacked — big box stores and noisy industrial areas. Star Valley’s real charm lies with the forest and wildlife all around it, Rappaport said.
If law requires council to pay itself back for water company — why not just change the law?
With enough votes, town councils can repeal any ordinance. The Star Valley Town Council had this epiphany Tuesday when the town’s manager suggested the council modify the rainy day ordinance so the town does not have to put back in the fund the money it took out to buy a water company. Town Manager Tim Grier said the town’s new water company probably won’t generate money to repay the rainy day fund in the required five years. To avoid violating the ordinance, he suggested the council simply rewrite the law so it need not replace the $600,000.
Payson and Star Valley’s cozy new good neighbor policy took another step forward last week. The Payson Town Council unanimously approved a plan to rent Star Valley a building inspector, to complete inspections of the lone house under construction. Star Valley lost its building inspector this week and hoped Payson would both complete inspections of its only construction project and talk about taking over building and plan approvals on a contract basis. Payson Town Manager Debra Galbraith suggested charging Star Valley $20 an hour, to cover the Payson building inspector’s hourly rate and drive time.
Council won’t buy into pipeline and isn’t worried about groundwater contamination
Star Valley doesn’t need Blue Ridge water and doesn’t have a groundwater contamination issue, the town council decided during a two-hour meeting last week. After months of debate, the council decided it would not go after a share of Blue Ridge Reservoir water, unwilling to spend millions to secure rights to water the town may never need. But the back-and-forth debate about whether to pay for water now to avoid a problem later didn’t carry over to whether septic systems might eventually pollute the shallow water table. A water consultant had issued a sharp warning about septic tank leaks, but the council quickly agreed the town need not do anything now.
Star Valley has wrestled with one question since incorporation: is there enough drinkable water to last? Answers have proven elusive. The town could go after Blue Ridge water, test wells for contamination and further monitor well water levels. Now, Star Valley officials hope the council will finally make its mind up at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Right now they are as clear as mud,” said Town Manager Tim Grier.
Piling irony on top of surprise, Payson water czar Buzz Walker Tuesday told the Star Valley Town Council it probably doesn’t need water from the Blue Ridge pipeline, even though it meant Payson would lose a cost-sharing partner. Walker, Payson’s water superintendent, said contracting with the Salt River Project for Blue Ridge water would likely cost too much for the town of 2,300, which has plenty of water of its own. Walker said studies have shown Star Valley has enough groundwater to sustain an additional 5,700 residents, well beyond the town’s growth projections. “I just don’t think you would ever need it,” he said.
Now that Star Valley has gone into the water business, the council on Tuesday will get some answers from Payson water czar Buzz Walker on issues that could affect the town’s long-term development. Star Valley will take over the local water company in May from Brooke Utilities, which will make the town legally entitled to a share of water from the Blue Ridge pipeline.
Star Valley backs away from clearing creek
One homeowner’s threat has prompted Star Valley to drop plans to clear debris from a creek to prevent floods from damaging homes. Homeowner Dan Bowman inadvertently killed the flood relief plan when he told town officials he would sue if the project made flooding worse. He was one of a handful of Starlight Drive homeowners that originally demanded the town do something after a January 2010 storm nearly washed away several homes and porches.
Star Valley voters approved home rule by a wide margin, averting the threat of drastic cuts in the town’s budget.
Council decides $9 monthly average increase necessary to upgrade infrastructure
For the 360 water customers in Star Valley, the rate hike holiday is over. Water rates will jump 40 percent after the town takes over the water company May 1 from Brooke Utilities, the first time in 12 years. The council on Tuesday approved the sharp increase from about an average of about $24 a month to roughly $33 a month to cover the cost of capital improvements. The council agreed the current rates provided enough money to run the system, but not enough to replace aging meters, make emergency repairs or expand the system in the future. “The policy decision is whether you want to acquire debt when something breaks or if you want to put into place rates that will build a fund for when something breaks,” said Town Manager and Attorney Tim Grier.
Some Star Valley residents could soon be saving an average of 20 percent off costly prescription medications after the town signed up for the program last week. The town is working with the National League of Cities to offer free discount prescription drug cards to any area resident. The cards are designed to give residents without health insurance a pharmacy benefit plan or have prescriptions not covered by insurance at a savings. Anyone is eligible for a card since the program has no age, income or existing health coverage or ailments restrictions. The card is accepted at all major pharmacies, including those in Payson.
Star Valley will take another step forward in the purchase of a local water company Tuesday when it is expected the council will vote to set up a checking account for the new department.
With the pending purchase of a 360-hookup water system, Star Valley no longer needs to collect wells to defend its water supply or fight fires. On the heels of the water company transfer, the council Feb. 7 agreed to give back a 200-foot well. The Chris Benjamin family originally gave the town the well in 2007 to help provide fire protection. Since the town did not have the area’s water rights at the time, it could not distribute the water for drinking, but it could have pumped it to fight fires.