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River Heights votes not to join new, costlier sewer pact with Logan

November 1st, 2015 Posted in Opinion

By Melanie Fenstermaker

RIVER HEIGHTS – After months of discussing whether River Heights should keep its current wastewater contract with Logan or enter into a new, more costly contract with Logan and five other Cache County cities, the City Council finally voted against signing the new contract.

The decision, which was made at Wednesday’s council meeting, will save homeowners nearly $234 per year on sewage expenses.

Despite three council members’ statements that they were strongly considering the new contract after six of 10 residents who attended an Oct. 13 public hearing supported it, the decision to keep the current contract passed on a 4-to-1 vote, with only council member Doug Clausen opposed.

Clausen’s was also the only dissenting vote when the council voted 4-to-1 in August to maintain the city’s current contract. The topic was reopened for discussion in September when a few Council members expressed concern that citizens should have been involved in the decision-making process. Citizens were invited to provide input at a public hearing via a letter from Mayor James Brackner. Following that hearing, the Council scheduled Wednesday’s meeting to vote on the issue with citizen opinions in mind.

Clausen said he respects the Council decision, but said he felt the new contract would have given the city a better idea of what wastewater rates might be in 2025, when the city has to renegotiate its current 50-year wastewater contract with Logan.

“I think it was a very difficult decision for everyone and I respect their decision not to go with it,” he said. “I just wanted to get more definites about would happen to the city rather than leave it so open-ended.”

Electing not to sign the new contract also means River Heights will keep its current fire contract with Logan, Brackner said. Brackner made a deal with Logan Mayor Craig Petersen for a new, lower-cost fire protection contract if River Heights opted for the costlier wastewater deal, in an effort to balance the pricier new wastewater contract. Although Petersen agreed to reduce fire protection expenses from $48,000 to $30,000 per year from July 2016 until July 2030, residents would have still seen an overall increase in utility prices, Brackner said.

By choosing to retain its current contract, River Heights also forfeits its seat on the wastewater treatment rate committee with Logan and the cities that signed the new contract – Smithfield, North Logan, Hyde Park Nibley and Providence – according to Brackner’s letter to residents. Although the city would have had a seat on the committee, Brackner said, Logan would have had 65 percent of the voting power, and River Heights would have had only a fraction of one vote.

Council member Robert Scott, who was considering supporting the new contract during the Oct. 13 meeting, decided the amount of extra money residents would have to pay wasn’t worth possible savings on fire services plus one seat – and only a fraction of a vote – on the rate-setting committee.

“Could I really feel comfortable about throwing away 400-plus thousand dollars to get less than one percent of a vote and potential savings on our fire?” Scott said. “In the long run, I’ve got to look out for the well-being of our current conditions of people.”

Council member Blake Wright, who had also considered supporting the new contract, had a similar opinion.

“I felt that even though our mayor made a good effort to negotiate a better fire protection contract, that even though he was able to get a slightly better fire protection contract, I still feel there are $350,000 to $400,000 we could lose, and that’s a hard thing to leave on the table,” he said.

Wright said it seems unfair to not have a seat on the rate-setting committee just because the city won’t sign the contract, calling it “taxation without representation.”

“I still feel like we should have representation on the committee,” he said. “Whether we agree to the contract or not, we still have to pay rates. We still have fluid going through the system. I don’t know all the details, but at least with the information that I have and what I know it doesn’t make sense to me that we would be denied a seat on that committee.”

Wright said he will run his thoughts past the city attorney to see if that’s something the city could pursue.

TP

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