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Bayfield Sanitation District to dissolve at year end
7/27/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Three Gem Village business people showed up for a July 18 hearing on the proposed dissolution of the Bayfield Sanitation District.
“The district board adopted a resolution that it’s in the best interest of the district to dissolve,” attorney Bud Smith said. “The law requires a hearing for people who live outside the entity (the town of Bayfield) that will take over, before the petition is filed with District Court.”
The dissolution plan has to satisfy the judge that the service will continue and the district’s financial issues will be handled, Smith said. The Gem Village system serves 135 equivalent residential taps (ERTs), with around 100 of those residential, he said.
“We are aiming for an election in November. Assuming it passes, the dissolution will be effective at the end of the year,” Smith said.
The town has been operating the system, including Gem Village, on contract with the district since April 2006. In March this year, district management was transferred from Smith to Town Manager Justin Clifton.
Sewer system decisions are now being made by both the district and town boards.
The town and district are preparing to start construction on a new sewage treatment plant to handle town sewage, and possibly Gem Village sewage too. The old aeration lagoons in Bayfield and Gem Village have both had ongoing problems meeting state operating permit limits.
Town and district engineer Brent Adams said the choices for Gem Village are to upgrade those lagoons, replace them with a mechanical plant, or pump that sewage over the hill to the new Bayfield plant. He expected a preliminary engineering report (PER – something required by the state) to be done by the end of this month.
Audience member Casey Cook noted the population growth in the Homestead subdivision, which uses the Gem Village plant. “Where will the money come from to do this?” he asked.
Adams said there are various funding sources, including grants.
Clifton said accounting for the two systems will be separate. “The money will need to come from tap fees and rates” in Gem Village, he said. “We can take advantage of some efficiencies that the district can’t, in terms of equipment and staff” that do work that’s not just sewer-related.
Smith noted the tap fee in Bayfield is now $6,000, but it is $3,500 in Gem Village. The Bayfield tap fee was raised early this year to help pay for interim system improvements and the new plant.
“The (Gem Village) PER will have recommendations about costs and fees based on the cost of capital improvements needed,” Smith said. It will be up to the town board to make decisions on that, he said.
Clifton said, “If everything is together (in one plant), the charges would be equal. If not, they will be budgeted separately and charges figured separately.”
According to the dissolution plan, any post-dissolution changes to tap fees or service charges for either system will be based on “a rate study utilizing commonly accepted cost of service principles” conducted by qualified entities.
The dissolution plan lists the possibility that the town, with voter approval, could impose a property tax to help pay the costs of sewer service. The district has operated without a property tax.
It specifies that after dissolution, the town will take over responsibility for a $5 million loan the district got from the state to help pay for the new Bayfield sewage plant.
Cook said he supports the town taking over the system.
Sewer board member and Gem Village businessman Dennis Hillyer commented, “The district was the only alternative when it started. Now it’s a dinosaur.” He said his interest in dissolution is why he got on the sewer district board. “It’s an unnecessary layer of government,” he said.
Riverside RV Park owner Mack Coker wanted clarification on how out of town customers will have representation, although he said, “We were treated like we are family” in negotiations to install a sewage pre-treatment system.
Town board meetings are open to everyone, Clifton said. He noted out of town participants at a recent meeting on moving the town’s bulk water salesman.
“If you are paying a fee, you have a voice,” town trustee Niel Hieb said.
Smith said the other issue will be land use decisions for out-of-town areas where the town operates the sewer service. He cited the pending intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the town and the county to cover development in those areas, including creation of a joint planning commission.
“It’s my understanding from Justin that anything in Gem Village would be joint planning commission review, tier 2, with construction to town standards,” Smith said. Tier 2 refers to land in the town’s growth area but not now contiguous to town limits.
Smith said July 27 is the deadline to file paperwork to be on the November ballot, and early September is the deadline to certify wording for ballot questions.