January 11, 2022 |
The published topic of a planned workshop Wednesday between the Saratoga Town Council and the Joint Water and Sewer Board lists only a single item: Tap fees. Hanging over the workshop, though, is a question that was first raised at a town council meeting in mid-November. It’s never been answered.
Town Councilwoman D’Ron Campbell raised the question. It’s a good one. Who has the final authority in developing water and sewer projects in Saratoga? Is it the water and sewer board, whose members are appointed? Or the town council, whose members answer directly to voters? The agreement between the JPB, the town and the Carbon County Commissioners was written and approved in 1976. The context of the agreement is predicated on specific concerns of that boom year — “the development of mineral resources and mining of coal near Saratoga” will lead to a “dramatic increase in population” that could exceed the capacity of water and sewer systems. The contract notes that the JPB is not ordained to last forever. Language lays out guidance for how it can be dissolved when it has served its purpose.
The document is silent about which government entity has the ultimate authority. It prescribes a healthy working relationship where the board would “cooperate with, and solicit the advise, counsel and recommendations of the Governing Body” of Saratoga.
The issue that triggered Councilwoman Campbell’s question involved the desire of the Airport Board to install a lift station at Shively Field to pump effluent from the FBO uphill about 100 yards to the south to a sewer line at Airport Avenue. The JPB had reasonable objections. Pumps are mechanical. They break down and need maintenance. The JPB proposed a more reliable, but more expensive gravity fed sewer system by boring underneath Highway 130.
The pump station issue has since resolved itself. The Airport Board found the additional money needed to bore a sewer line under the highway and connect to the town system on the east side of 130. But the question still remains. Councilman Jon Nelson, at that November council meeting said the lines of authority between the two entities are not clear.
Wanting an answer, the Saratoga governing body turned the question over to the town attorney, Jane France of Sundahl, Powers, Knapp and Martin of Cheyenne for a legal review. It was completed before Christmas. Bigfoot 99 requested a copy of France’s legal analysis, but this reporter was denied access. Mayor Creed James withheld the document, saying it was a matter of attorney-client privilege.
Whether the attorney-client privilege claim is true or not is a question for another day. During that same meeting where this reporter requested the legal analysis, council members remain confused. The JPB contends that it owns the water and sewer system, and the town merely maintains it and collects fees from users. The relationship is murky. At a town council meeting in December when the governing body was discussing putting out requests for proposals – known as RFPs – for past and upcoming water and sewer projects — for instance, the recent lagoon improvements — Councilman Ron Hutchins asked why issuing RFP’s should be the town’s responsibility if the JPB owns the infrastructure.
It may be a question that comes up tomorrow. A question that no one has asked is why the Town needs the JPB’s permission to undertake any water or sewer project at all. Section 10 of the 1976 contract states unambiguously that “nothing in this agreement shall prevent either of the parties hereto from expanding, financing and operating systems for the delivery of municipal services independently of the Board.” All that is required is notification.
We do not know if the town attorney addressed Section 10 in her legal analysis of the agreement. We were denied access to what we believe is a public document related to the ongoing construction, operation and financing of the town’s sewer and water system. Perhaps it will come up at tomorrow night’s workshop before or after tap fees are discussed.
The meeting begins in the Platte Valley Community Center at 4:30 p.m.