An alert neighbor probably saved lives when for the third time in a month an untended patio grill sparked a house fire in Star Valley. The deck on a hilltop two-story home ignited early Friday morning when a propane grill was left on high inadvertently for several hours. Frantic efforts by the homeowner and neighbor Jim Carlen to douse the flames with garden hoses likely kept it from spreading to the attic and destroying the house on East Pine Canyon Road, said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch. “Between the two of them, they saved the home,” he said.
Local author writes novel speculating on the fate of the escapees his father’s book made famous
Writing is part of Kevin Bruce’s genetic code. His father, J. Campbell Bruce, wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years, was a Sunday stringer for the New York Times, wrote for Readers Digest and authored the non-fiction book, “Escape from Alcatraz,” which inspired a successful movie starring Clint Eastwood. Bruce himself has authored two books on art published by Random House’s Ten Speed Press. “I always wanted to write fiction, but I didn’t know what to write,” he said. A couple of years ago he attended a book signing by Michael Connelly, author of award-winning detective novels including those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. Connelly was the president of the Mystery Writers of America from 2003 to 2004 Bruce said Connelly gave the age-old advice, “Write what you know.”
Council likes budget format that puts off decisions on major water, road projects
The Star Valley Town Council Tuesday expressed satisfaction with a budget for fiscal 2012-13 that includes money to run and upgrade its new water company and a big reserve fund to fund still unspecified projects. The town remains in far better shape than most, thanks to state formulas that have rewarded it for population growth and revenue coming in from traffic ticket cameras at both ends of town. The town each year brings in between $300,000 and $400,000 more than it needs for ongoing operations, giving it money for special projects.
A hilltop house fire ignited by sparks from a backyard grill hunkered down in the attic of a Star Valley home and fiercely resisted hours of effort by crews from Hellsgate, Payson and Houston Mesa fire departments. The residents and their seven dogs escaped injury as the fire enveloped the attic and managed to escape firefighters every time they thought they had it cornered. The home reportedly belonged to Misty and Robert Duffy, longtime residents of the rambling house perched on a hilltop at the end of a steep, winding driveway on Buckskin Drive in Star Valley.
Speed cameras still yield $900,000 in revenue despite decline in tickets
Star Valley’s four budgetary workhorses need a feed bag of speeding tourists, with the town projecting another drop in photo enforcement revenue in next year’s fiscal budget. Fortunately for the town’s bottom line, Star Valley still expects to bank nearly $900,000 from the four cameras fixed at opposite ends of town. However, ticket revenue has dropped by 23 percent since Star Valley installed the cameras in 2008. Ticket revenue is not the only thing decreasing. City sales tax is also expected to continue its downward spiral. Although neighboring Payson this year saw a heartening rise in sales tax revenue, the numbers show that Star Valley’s businesses continue to struggle.
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.