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Sewer fees in Gays Mills are a focus of discussion

POSTED June 10, 2017 12:40 p.m.

One of the bigger sore points in Gays Mills surfaced again as an item on the village board agenda Monday night—the Code of Ordinance Title 9, Chapter 2 Sewer Utility Regulation and Rates.

Sewer and water rates are a frequent topic of discussion at village boards, but at times the sewer rate in Gays Mills can be particularly contentious. At the heart of the matter are 26 residences that pay a $27.50 sewer flat rate, but are not connected to the village’s sewer service.

“Is that fair?” asked those paying the fee for a service they don’t use. That as it turns out is just the beginning of the discussion as those attending the Monday night meeting could soon see.

The 26 residences using septic systems for sewage disposal and paying the flat rate sewer fee are far from the only residences inside the village limits with septic systems. However, they are the only ones using septic systems that have village sewer lines running by their properties to which they could connect. The other septic system users are rural residents of the village living beyond municipal sewer service.

Needless to say, there’s more than a little bit of history behind how this situation came into being and a lot of it tumbled out at the meeting.

Bernard and Virginia Murphy have lived on Blue Bird Lane for 22 years. They have faithfully paid the sewer flat rate, while never being hooked up to the system.

“We have our own septic system and it works very well,” Virginia Murphy told the board. She went on to tell the board that since they moved into the house in Gays Mills they have said $6,000.97 in sewer charges for services they never used. She also told the board the combine 26 residences have paid the village $158,000 since this policy was instituted.

Village president Harry Heisz told the Murphys he understood how they felt because he had been “in their shoes,” when it came to paying the sewer flat rate for service he wasn’t using. He also elaborated on the costs that he incurred in getting the sewer hooked up for his house.

However, the village president said the sewer flat rates in question were a very real part of the village’s budget. If those sewer flat rates weren’t paid by the 26 residences, the shortfall would have to be made up elsewhere.

Roger Dull, another resident with a septic system paying the village’s monthly sewer flat rate, described his situation. He noted that his property had no sewer service available when he purchased it and wasn't within the village limits.

“The American way is to get something when you’re paying for it,” Dull said.

“I have my own septic system,” village trustee Aaron Fortney noted. He also pays the sewer flat rate for service he does not access.

Complicating matters is the fact that the village government initially told the residents with septic systems on properties that could be served by the village’s municipal sewer system that the money they were paying in flat rate fees would be available for them in the future to pay for the hookup fee to connect to the sewer lines. Later, this money was expended on other projects and residents that did not use it to connect are no longer eligible to pay a lesser hookup fee. That hookup fee is $1,950 currently for the affected residents.

The hook up fee for residents living west of the Kickapoo River is around $4,000, because it is used to offset some of the costs of lift stations needed to service the area, according to Gays Mills Director of Public Works Jim Chellevold.

Village trustee Albert Zegiel said he was approached by five or six people after last month’s meeting who said they were glad the sewer flat rate fee for unconnected customers brought up. Zegiel said he wanted to propose waiving hookup fees for the 26 residences because the residents had already paid up enough to cover the costs.

Former village president Craig Anderson put the matter in a different perspective.

“I do understand the points our neighbors are making,” Anderson said. “You are not getting a direct benefit. But, it’s not true that you don’t benefit or get anything from the village having a sewer system.

“We all benefit,’” Anderson said. The former village president explained that he was not happy to be paying a fee for water in a building he owns where it is turned off. However, he views paying the fees asa civic responsibility to keep the system functioning.

Anderson said if there were no sewer system in the village there would be consequences felt by the public.

Dull proposed giving the 26 residences a specific one-time incentive to hookup to the system at no charge or a reduced rate.

Heisz asked the board to decide if the board as a whole should have a special meeting to discuss the situation or whether it should be sent to a committee to discuss.

Village trustee Kim Pettit said her reading of the materials given to the board by the clerk seemed to indicate that charging the flat rate for residents with septic systems choosing not to use the available municipal sewer service was “put into effect in 1990.”

Zegiel said he believed it started long before that.

When asked for her opinion, Gays Mills Village Clerk Dawn McCann recommended the board take the matter to committee. Pettit favored a special board meeting.

“It’s not possible to please everyone without being unfair to everyone else,” Heisz said of the situation.

Zegiel made a motion to hold a special board meeting to discuss the sewer flat rate charge for residents not connected to the system.  The motion passed and the meeting will be held on Monday, June 26 at 6 p.m.  The sewer rate situation will be the only item on the agenda of the special meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, the village’s volunteer forester Cindy Kohles brought several important decisions about trees in the village before the board.

Two dying ash trees on a village-owned lot are being killed by emerald ash bore. The deteriorating trees located in the 200 block of Park Street on the former Martin property are dropping limbs.

Neighbors Greg and Kate Vereschagin, who live at 212 Park Street, are concerned the trees or parts of them may fall on their house and damage it. An arborist they hired agrees with that assessment.

Kohles and an arborist she works with in the village, Tom Burke, do not think the trees will fall on or damage the Vereschagin residence.

Burke told Kohles he would cut the trees down for $800 provided he was in the village or nearby on other business. Kohles said, given the difficulty and other factors, she thought it was a fair price.

Village workers were comfortable cutting down one of the trees, but not the other, director of public works Jim Chellevold told the board. The workers concern was nearby utility wires.

Kohles told the board they could think of including the cost of the tree removal in the selling price of the lot going forward. The forester also told the board they might be able to recover some of the cost of removing the trees by sale of the logs.

After some discussion, Aaron Fortney made a motion to have Tom Burke cut down the ash trees at 210 Park Street when he’s in town, unless the work gets done before then. The cost of the tree removal will be added to the cost of the lot when the village goes to sell it. The motion passed.

Kohles recommended the village establish a tree board to make a decision on purchase and placement of trees. It’s a process that she finds difficult to undertake alone.

Fortney also made a motion authorizing one village employee to attend the 2017-18 Wisconsin Community Tree Institute. The tuition will be covered by a grant Kohles secured and the expenses of travel, lodging and meals will be paid by the village. The institute will be held in three two-day sessions of over the course of a year-and-a-half.

Early in the meeting, the board heard a proposal from the Lions Club to re-gravel two 15-foot wide sections on Orin Street where it adjoins Lion Park on one side and the Kickapoo River on the other side.

The spaces are used for parking. The current gravel has sunk down into the grass and soil. The plan as presented by Lion Lauren Knutson will include removing four to six inches of the current material and placing ground cloth down before adding the new gravel.

The Lions have a $4,000 bid for the gravel and are willing to pay up to $2,000 of the cost, Knutson said. The club members are also willing to provide 90 percent of the labor on the project.

In other business, the Gays Mills Village board:

• heard that a lower portion of a brick wall in a restroom in Robb Park is collapsing and will need repair

• learned from Brad Niemcek that with the onset of drier weather work on paving the Stump Dodger Trail is about to begin

• was also informed that Saturday, June 10 and Saturday, June 24 are scheduled trail workdays and Thursday, June 22 there will be a paddle event on the Kickapoo River supporting the trail

• approved a conditional use permit allowing a resident to erect a shed at 176 Bluebird Lane

• agreed to have the director of public works investigate the status of mosquito fogger, owned by the village that has not been used in several years, for possible use this summer

• declined to make a matching contribution to the Driftless Wisconsin JEM Grant because the deadline for inclusion of the village had already passed

• decided to review a proposed county ordinance relating to ATV/UTV routes and trails  created by the county to answer some specific concerns

• recommended that residents with complaints about barking dogs contact the county animal control officer Crisse Reynolds

• reviewed the village’s lawn regulation which states lawns cannot exceed 12 inches in length

• learned a rooster might be being kept in the village in violation of an ordinance prohibiting the practice

• approved alcohol licenses for all current establishments with those licenses

• also approved a host of operator’s licenses for alcohol servers at those establishments

• approved a temporary Class B license for the Lions Club to serve alcohol at their park shelter on September 22, 23 and 24

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