Town sewer budget in ‘dire straits’; rates expected to increase by end of year

By Kay Hoffer

      Addressing the shortfall of the Town of Terry’s sewer budget topped agenda items discussed during Thursday’s regular Terry Town Council meeting. Other topics, including replacing the town’s fire engine that was destroyed in last month’s fire, reworking a truck route ordinance, drafting a new garbage contract with Fallon and preparing the town’s budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, were also among topics of interest discussed during the August 14 meeting.

     “We’re just in dire straits here,” Mayor Rolane Christofferson said, describing the town’s current sewer budget. “We’re not meeting our loan requirements.”

     After some discussion and a brief presentation by Eastern Plains EDC director Jason Rittal in which he reviewed the status of grant applications that could be used to assist the town’s sewer funds and offered to help draft letters addressed to residents regarding the sewer shortfall, council members negotiated proposed sewer rate increases. Ultimately the council agreed to an $8 monthly increase for the next two years — a 32 percent hike — to the $25 fee currently paid by town residents.

     The proposed increase could begin as early as the end of the year, but won’t take affect until a public hearing on the matter is scheduled.

     But according to the evening’s discussion, residents could see as much as a 60 percent increase in sewer rates in the years following.

     “We know that our sewer fund is not in good shape,“ Christofferson said. “We need to do something. We need to get started.” 

      According to figures provided by Town Clerk Lynn Schilling the town’s sewer expenditures for the 2013-14 fiscal year have included:  $6,680 for testing lagoon samples; $1,183 for a BNSF sewer main issue; $39, 999.97 for a preliminary engineering report and $1,658 for a utility billing software maintenance.

      Schilling noted in the past year the town has experienced an increase of expenditures in testing due to state regulations requiring more monthly samples be taken of the sewer discharge. The need to send the samples to a Billings laboratory, rather than the Miles City lab, where samples were once taken, has also increased the expense.

     The town sewer budget has received this year  $15,000 from the Treasure State Endowment Program and $5,000 in DNRC grants.

     The town is currently paying on a 1996 and 1998 USDA Rural Development loan used to establish the new sewer system, according to Schilling.

     In other town news, Terry Volunteer Fire Chief Dwight Tague reported to the council the department is waiting to hear from the insurance company before replacing the town’s 1993 fire engine that was destroyed in a July 16 fire. Tague said he had found an engine online being sold by the US Fire Equipment for $60,000, which was formerly used by the City of Spokane.

     Calling the current proposed truck route ordinance confusing, newly hired Town Attorney Shawn Quinlan of Lucas & Tonn said the draft should be reworked.

     “What needs to happen is to scrap this whole thing,” Quinlan said. “I think you need to throw this away and just start over,” he added. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

     The desire is to keep trucks over 20,000 gvw out of Terry’s residential area, according to council discussions. Four signs would be used to route trucks along Montague, Laundre and Spring Streets.

     Quinlan said he will work on the truck route ordinance and have a new draft to the council at an upcoming meeting.

    Quinlan will also be ironing out details on a new contract to pick up garbage for Fallon residents, assisting confusion that has been occurring on what kind of refuse will be picked up, containers to be used along with other issues.

     The town council agreed to meet for a special budget meeting August 28 at 7 p.m.

     Deputy Sheriff Lorin Larsen addressed the council regarding several public safety issues, including several businesses found to have their front doors unlocked during evening business patrols. He also noted the sheriff’s office has spoken with BNSF officials regarding the blockage of train crossings in Terry.

      Christofferson asked about the installation of extra speed limit signs. Larsen reported that Sheriff Duncan Hedges will be talking with maintenance supervisor James Schilling about the signs.

     Larsen reported the rockhound gathering was a bit disorganized with minor traffic violations occurring during the weekend event.

     The town council approved purchasing concrete blankets for the town pool to keep frost from the pool surface. The expected expenditure will be $1,500 to $1,600.

     James Schilling asked for more material to fix potholes along Terry streets. Christofferson asked if the potholes in front of the Prairie County Clinic could be among the first to be filled as they are really bad.

     A one-year contract with Shawn Quinlan as town attorney was approved, beginning July 10, 2014. Quinlan’s services will be rendered at a $150 hourly rate, along with travel expenses and other expenses directly incurred for service to the town.

     The council approved the appointment of Caryn Rein as the new councilperson, replacing councilman Fred Rambur. Rein’s letter of interest was the only one received  for the Ward I council seat. Terry resident Scott Carlton had expressed interest in the position but withdrew his name from consideration in a letter to the council. In his 2-page letter Carlton gave 10 suggestions as to how the town council could improve. 

Published August 20, 2014

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