One of the requests from residents of Basin who opposed the Basin Water and Sewer District Council’s plan to add water meters and rehabilitate the Quartz Avenue pumping station was to put it to the vote.
Allowing residents to vote back and forth would give an accurate tally of the number of residents who actually want the basin’s water and sewer district to go into debt to pay for these improvements, which has also resulted in a change in tariffs, according to government officials. opponents.
Mr. J. Williams, who chairs the basin’s water and sewer district council, said that was not possible.
“I spoke to Bonnie Ramey (Jefferson County Election Officer), I spoke to the county attorney (Steve Haddon), I spoke to Megan Bullock (Jefferson County Sanitation)… I couldn’t find any mechanism for this kind of council to vote. it would be verifiable, ”Williams said at the Oct. 6 board meeting.
The meeting, held on Zoom, was also marked by a new level of rhetoric from opponents, who during this session were more limited on who could speak and for how long when the public comments part.
This time only the people of the District could speak and only for two minutes. There would be no question and answer period and the mics were turned off after the two minutes had elapsed. The board had enlisted the help of its bond attorney, Nathan Bilyeu, to prevent the meeting from becoming controversial, as it has done in recent sessions.
The new public consultation guidelines have barred opposition representative Jack Lundberg from speaking because he lives outside the district.
Those who spoke compared the current situation to a failure of democracy, a violation of the constitutional amendment to abolish slavery, while declaring that the Council was acting as “the ruling class”.
Dede Rhodes disagreed with the new tariffs and was disappointed by what she saw as a failure of democracy on the decision on a possible community vote on the future of the Water and Water District. basin sewers.
“I am deeply crushed. I have never seen anyone take my belief in a democracy and crush it so strongly, ”Rhodes said.
Bill Hagman also based his critiques on his belief in democracy and the constitution. Hagman began by asking, “Who are you sending me an invoice for for $ 108 per month?” Who gave you this authority? He went on to ask if any of the Council members had read the Constitution of the United States of America. He then went on to discuss the 13th Amendment which he said: “Basically he’s saying you can’t make someone work or pay a bill they haven’t contracted for… it’s illegal.” He also clarified that the 13th Amendment freed slaves.
The 13th Amendment does not deal with invoices or contracts, but deals specifically with the abolition of slavery.
In April, council approved a series of rate changes to pay for the improvements, which includes a loan of $ 392,000 from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, half of which is to be canceled. The loan did not require a vote from residents, according to Bilyeu.
The rate change, which came into effect on June 1 and following a public hearing, added fees for those using more than 10,000 gallons, as well as a monthly fee of $ 12 for an unoccupied or undeveloped property. without water connection. Under the new pricing structure, residential and commercial water users pay a base rate of $ 48, with variable usage rates above 10,000 gallons only taking effect after the water meters are met. installed. The previous rate was $ 48 for residential users and $ 68.80 for commercial users.
In addition to putting the Quartz Avenue pumping station back into service, the Commission plans to use the water meters to detect and repair leaks that plague the system, causing excessive water use and cost of water. treatment of this water.
Water meters are also a prerequisite for securing future funding for system upgrades, according to the council.
When the board said the time for comments was up, an offscreen man replied in a loud voice, “Your time is almost up too. “
Opponents of the council plan had in the past threatened to remove council members and dissolve the district.
Opponents had also asked the Council to seek other means – preferably non-governmental – to pay for system improvements, but had disconnected Zoom when Council Member Joy Lewis responded to the request.
Lewis said she looked at seven different private fundraisers and found several barriers to this option – the district is a Jefferson County entity, it is not a nonprofit, it is not a large metropolitan area or a foreign country and did not generally meet the guidelines on grants and therefore were not eligible.
The district, however, is considered a low to moderate income community for many state and federal loans and grants, such as the State Treasury Endowment Program from the Department of Commerce and Grants and Loans from the Department of Commerce Grants Program. communautary development. The USDA also has grants for new planning projects, but will not provide any funding without water meters in place, according to Lewis.
“There are more funding opportunities available and I continue to research potential sites if my time allows,” Lewis said in a written description of his research.
Lewis said she was disappointed those opposed to the Council’s current plan left the meeting before she could address that single concern.
The next meeting is scheduled for October 20.