Council addresses ordinance amendments
FORT LARAMIE – The Fort Laramie Town Council convened Wednesday, March 8, for their regularly scheduled meeting. Councilmembers Ryon Brown, Mike Doan, Laura Curtsinger and Kelly Loveland were present. Mayor Joyce Evans was absent.
The council approved the second reading of Ordinance No. 313, changing trash rates through June 2025. If the ordinance is passed, trash rates will increase to $25.75 per month for residential, $34.95 per month for small commercial properties and $64.15 per month for large commercial properties.
The council then reviewed amendments to the existing utility ordinance.
“If you have a meter pit or you have a pedestal, whether it’s vacant or unoccupied, you were going to get a bill for it at the minimum rate,” Doan said. “I think that’s wrong; I think that’s wrong on many levels. Just because there is a pit or a pedestal, doesn’t mean you should be charged when not receiving a service.”
Loveland questioned whether charging regardless of whether service is delivered or not would be appropriate as there is the opportunity to connect to service. Without a pit or pedestal, a property owner would be required to purchase a pit or pedestal in order to receive utility service from the town.
“It’s $1,000 for electric and $1,000 for water,” Doan explained. “So, the property owner pays to install those pedestals and pits. The town installs the meter for a connection fee and then we charge them for the service of the water and the electricity. Once that meter is pulled out of there, there shouldn’t be a charge just because they have a pit or pedestal.”
Loveland argued the pit or pedestal’s presence on a lot offers an advantage to the property owner should they come to sell the residence and the new owners who might want to connect to town utility services.
Doan said he understood Loveland’s point, but added he felt as though being charged the minimum fee when someone doesn’t use the services, they are being unduly charged for putting pit and pedestal in and then a regular monthly fee when there is no service being provided to the consumer.
Loveland asked whether the town was somehow incurring charges from the presence of the pits and pedestals on the property.
The council agreed to seek whether the town was incurring charges solely from a property having a pit and pedestal on the property. They agreed to approve the on first reading with amendments, pending the conclusion of researching whether costs are incurred by the town for having pits and pedestals on properties who do not use town utility services.
The council approved Ordinance No. 311, an ordinance establishing sewer rates of $15 per month for an unoccupied lot, $36 per month for an installed sewer system and $0 for a vacant lot.
The council approved Ordinance No. 305, an ordinance establishing electrical rates of $15 per month for an unoccupied lot, $0.15/kW in addition to a $15 base rate and $0 per month for a vacant lot.
The council then discussed proposed Ordinance 244. If passed, this ordinance would change the way the town handles delinquent accounts.
Under the proposed ordinance, charges for town utilities would be due 15 days after the date of mailing utility bills. Accounts not paid in full by the 15th day would then be deemed delinquent and assessed a $25 late fee. The town would then send the account owner a letter offering a payment plan with the town, or a 10-day extension to pay the bill.
Under the terms of the ordinance, if payment arrangements were not made or the amount is not paid off in its entirety by the end of the 10-day period, the town would shut off the utilities to the property.
“In the event of termination of any services the user shall pay a reconnection fee of $50 plus two times the normal deposit for utility services to the town before any services are resumed,” the ordinance reads.
Additionally, the previously owed balance would be required to be paid in full before reconnection would be permitted.
The council also agreed to include language in the ordinance which would preclude the services from being disconnected on Fridays or the day before any town-recognized holidays.
The ordinance was approved on its first reading.
The final utility-related ordinance amendment discussed by the council was the addition of a single sentence to the ordinance governing deposits for utility services. The sentence reads, “The $300 deposit shall apply jointly and severally between all utilities offered by the town.”
Also discussed during the meeting was concern over accountability of the bills and payments for the town, and the presentation of the bills made to the council.
Loveland addressed concerns over the format of the bills and payments presented to the council. She asked that council members be permitted to review financial documents presented to the council prior to meeting. She also asked the format of the bills to be easily read, to ensure proper checks and balances of the bills and payments for the town.
“If we are signing off on these, we need to, one, just for checks and balances for you (Clerk Sondra Ellis), make sure that what is shown on the street in the front matches the bill that is going out...and two, a cover summary page helps clarify all of that,” Loveland explained.
Loveland also suggested having someone come in prior to the meetings to review the billing and payment statements, as other neighboring towns have done. Curtsinger said she had done this prior to the meeting. The council agreed to have a monthly rotation for council members to review the billing and payment statements for the town prior to each meeting.
Brown addressed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) renewal between the Fort Laramie Volunteer Fire Department, Fort Laramie National Historic Site Fire Department and Goshen County Rural Fire Board. Brown said he had noticed a couple of minor errors on the MOU and recommended the matter be tabled until a final draft of the MOU could be presented.
The council agreed to table the matter until the final draft was made available to the council.
The council then discussed another MOU, which is for information technology (IT) services provided by Goshen County IT. The annual cost was $5,000, but the county has raised the cost of their services to $6,000 per year. Ellis told the council the county originally wanted to increase the cost of service to $7,500 but agreed to reduce that cost to $6,000 after considering the population of Fort Laramie.
Curtsinger asked if the contract would extend for one year as the contract did not stipulate a term for the contract.
The council agreed to table the matter until the term of the contract could be determined and declared on the contract.
The council approved three open container permits, one for March 26 at 3 p.m. for an open bar served by the Fort Laramie Bar and Grill. The event is a banquet in the community center hosted by the local coed dart league. The local teams won, so they will be sponsoring the event. Food will be served at cost, followed by the cash bar.
The second permit approved was for Sherri Hill, who plans to host a family game night at the community center on March 18.
The third permit approved was for Julia Newman on April 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the community center.
Doan presented a request for a demolition permit for an old residence at North Miles and Custer. Doan said he had submitted an asbestos detection sample and is awaiting the results for the test. Should the test be negative, he would like to begin the demolition process within the next one to three months.
The council approved the attendance of two town employees for water operator licensure on April 18-21 in Casper. The cost of the training amounted to $395 per person, in addition to $80 per night for a hotel room. The council agreed to offer them separate rooms for the stay.
The council approved a bid from Pomp’s Tire Service for the purchase of new tires on the town’s maintenance pickup. Curtsinger presented a bid received from Pomp’s Tire Service for a set of 10-ply tires. The council approved the purchase after learning the tires would be better than previously considered tires and would be cheaper as the City of Torrington offered to mount and balance the new tires, in addition to disposing of the current tires. The total for the new tires amounted to $605.20.
Loveland presented several concerns over transparency and accountability of town officials. Loveland told the council she and Brown were not informed of a meeting with state auditors where they discussed matters Loveland and Brown originally brought to the attention of the council.
She expressed her frustration with the council for having not been informed of any of the information obtained during the audit or the date and time of the meeting.
“When I took this oath of office, I signed on to represent the best interest of the town,” Loveland said. “I can tell you; this budget was a ‘shit’ show. We don’t know where we are at...there was absolutely no way to track it and I was not comfortable with, when something came up, saying do we have the money in the budget, because not one person sitting at this ‘damn’ table knew.”
Brown and Loveland asked to bring this matter up again at the next meeting as they would like to continue the conversation with Mayor Evans.
“We need to make this town compliant,” Loveland said.
Prior to closing the meeting, Fort Laramie resident Jamie Potter asked to be heard on a concern. She asked why the town had been paying for the town’s police chief use of the town’s patrol vehicle to drive to and from his home. Potter said the officer lives in Torrington, which adds an additional 40 miles per day of wear and tear on the vehicle.
Police Chief Michael Staiger responded to Potter’s inquiry, stating he had experienced vehicle issues after the town’s patrol vehicle had been sitting for some time. He said driving between his home and Fort Laramie had alleviated much of the issues.
Potter expressed she did not have an issue with Staiger, she just felt this was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars and hoped to have a conversation about the matter.
A budgeting work session will be held April 3 at 5:30 p.m. and the next regular meeting will be held April 12 at 7 p.m.