Fairness, legality of Oak Creek ordinance being questioned

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What: Oak Creek Town Board meeting

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Oak Creek Town Hall, 129 Nancy Crawford Blvd.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version. Scott Wedel is not an Oak Creek resident, and the downtown Oak Creek commercial building that used to house the kayak factory is about 8,800 square feet.

Two Oak Creek property owners are questioning the fairness of a new ordinance that would allow the town to place liens on properties with unpaid electric bills.

Oak Creek operates the town water, sewer and electricity utilities and already places liens on properties with delinquent water and sewer bills. After Ordinance 609 passed with unanimous approval at the March 24 Town Board meeting, questions were raised about its legality. Ordinance 609 would allow the town to also place liens on properties with delinquent electric bills.

Town attorney Bob Weiss said he is looking into the matter and his findings will be presented at today’s meeting. Ordinance 609 is scheduled to take effect April 24.

Steamboat Springs resident Scott Wedel said he was surprised to read the publication of the ordinance March 27 in the Steamboat Pilot.

“My argument is there is no way to properly administer a policy that puts the responsibility onto the property owner,” Wedel said. “They are not the person that receives the bills and is informed of the bill payment.”

Wedel, who owns residential and commercial property in Oak Creek, said he is the exception to the rule because he pays his own electric bills and includes those costs in the rent he charges.

He was, however, concerned that the ordinance would alter landlord-tenant relationships under other circumstances. For example, Oak Creek resident Chan Zwanzig owns a 8,800-square-foot building that formerly housed the Wave Sport kayak factory. The building is currently leased to Elevation Wellness Center, a commercial medical marijuana grow operation that uses a significant amount of electricity.

“My concern is the town is going to ask me to become liable — instead of my tenant — for anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 (per) month of exposure, without telling me what that exposure is a month,” Zwanzig said.

If his tenant doesn’t pay his electricity bill, Zwanzig would be responsible for those costs.

At the March 24 meeting, Town Clerk Karen Halterman said the town loses about $8,000 to $10,000 annually in unpaid electricity bills.

The ordinance could help alleviate some of those losses.

Weiss said last week that he would look into whether the town is allowed to place liens on properties with unpaid electricity bills. If so, he said, the issue becomes who can ultimately be responsible for making up the losses.

One way to alleviate costs could be to spread them out by raising rates for the entire town. Another way is to hold someone liable for unpaid bills, as Ordinance 609 does.

“It becomes a policy question,” Weiss said. “What’s the fair thing to do?”

Also on the agenda tonight is a recommendation on a bid award for the new water tank project and a proposal for an oil and gas lease from Hunter Land Services.

Action items include a resolution to accept the contractor’s work on the wastewater treatment plant; approval of a pay application from Duckels Construction for the same project; discussion of municipal judge pay; and discussion of dates for community yard sales. For more information, call Halterman at 970-736-2422.

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years ago

Or another solution is for the Town to properly administer their deposit and disconnect policy.

I did an open records request for the non privileged information for 2010 delinquent accounts.

The first thing the handling of the request revealed is that the Town had not done any research regarding 2010 delinquent accounts.

Second, it revealed that the losses in 2010 were about $4,000, not $8,000 to $10,000.

Third, it revealed that two accounts were responsible for about half of 2010's losses. and two more accounts were responsible for about another 25%. So if the Town had better handled 4 accounts then 75% of the losses would not have happened and the losses would have been under $1,000.

Also, the irony of the situation is that the Town electric enterprise fund is the best condition of all the funds (general, water, sewer) because despite official population declining by 10% from 2009 to 2010, electrical usage is up 20%. The Town sells electricity for about twice what it pays for wholesale electricity so a 20% increase in sales creates a lot of cash. The Town is making about $25,000 a year off of Elevation Wellness and so even the $4,000 in losses elsewhere is not a critical budget issue.

So, it is obvious the Town failed to even attempt to understand the problem prior to adopting a solution.

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

yvb, Bob is not full time on staff. His time costs money and he generally stays out of issues until there is a specific legal question. None of this issue is between me and Bob.

There is no doubt that the Town can make the property owner responsible for unpaid electricity bills because as a municipal utility, it is not bound by PUC regulations and they can lien property owners for water and sewer service.

The legal questions are issues between landlord and tenant and the Town regarding privacy issues regarding tenant's electricity bills and things like whether landlord can tell Town to disconnect service to tenant. Ie, if landlord is responsible for the bill then presumably the landlord has rights regarding the bill and continued service, but then tenant's also want rights regarding service, presumably including the right that landlord cannot disconnect their electricity service.

The problem with this is not legal, but a horrible policy requested by Town administration and approved by the Town Board. It is those people that failed to research the actual 2010 loss or how their policies and administration of their policies contributed to the losses, but instead decided to dump the responsibility for managing deposits and disconnects onto the property owner.

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kathy foos 3 years ago

Please don't allow the oil and gas permits,if its just oil well ,that is one thing, if signed and properly fenced off from the public.....Gas fracturing is bad,ruins the water and land. If anyone pollutes the under ground water table in south routt they should be held accountable.Does this company requesting the permit have any studies done for damage impact and emergency response,road impacts etc.No gas fracking at all makes good policy, since its an unknown ,unproven ,questionable practice.Are we to be the experiment that pollutes water for ever like so many other areas that have tried it.How could it be legal to allow fracturing when it is proven to have caused damage in lots of ways.Thats like saying its OK to murder sometimes under the right conditions.Dont approve anything that could pollute!!!!!

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kathy foos 3 years ago

Also I don't think its legal to attach the electric bill to the property or it would have been done long ago.You could make the property owner have a deposit on hold and use the disconnect of the service,attaching a property just would't be necessary,just cut off the service when the deposit is used up

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