Fairness, legality of Oak Creek ordinance being questioned
April 13, 2011
If you go
What: Oak Creek Town Board meeting
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Oak Creek Town Hall, 129 Nancy Crawford Blvd.
Oak Creek — 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.