The public hearing on impact fees was postponed, but comments were taken anyway prior to a separate meeting with developers.
As would ultimately be discussed the following day, the Sidney City Council heard requests last week that developers whose projects are already under way, the financing already secured, should be exempt from paying fees for water and sewer. The current proposal is a $6,000 impact fee per occupant.
“I would just like to say I do business the same way as you do,” developer Chris Storm of Pheasant Run Subdivision told Mayor Bret Smelser, saying that to have the rule change mid-game means that “I don’t frankly know where I’m going to get the money.”
Smelser said the city must act as if the Montana Legislature neglects giving additional funds for oil and gas-impacted communities. If there isn’t a revenue stream, what does the city do, he asked.
Realtor Nick Jones questioned why the city didn’t conduct incremental water and sewer fees over the years when officials knew it needed money.
The city, Smelser said, has doubled what the rate was 10 years ago; residents, he said, have been asking him who’s to pay for the expansion, when they’re not the ones creating the impacts. “Understand we’ve had this discussion before,” he said. “We were doing quite well, and with that first wave of people that came in in the early 2000s we were ahead of the game on a lot of the sewer and water complaints. It wasn’t until the second wave came in probably ‘08, ‘09 started, that we really started feeling the pinch.”
Raising rates from a proposed $30 to $50-60 isn’t “fair to the residents that want to retire here,” Smelser said. “Somewhere along the line we have to have a revenue stream.”
The mayor noted if the city spends all of its budget, it would end with an estimated $3.8 million at the end of the fiscal year in June. That’s down from the $5.3 million he inherited when he took office which was bumped to $7.5 million. “So we’ve blown through almost $4 million in cash trying to be fair to everybody, and it just is not working,” he said.
The council will hold another meeting Wednesday (today) at 7 p.m. before discussing it at the next council meeting Monday.
In other business during the Oct. 1 Sidney City Council meeting:
• City council has yet to make a decision on whether to allow the Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture the ability to place a $1.50 bed tax on hotels, revenue that supports tourism in Sidney. Smelser reiterated earlier statements that he hesitates implementing the tax now as the Montana League of Cities and Towns proposes $3 taxes on hotels in oil and gas-impacted communities. How much are hotels willing to charge? Mike Johnson of the Best Western Golden Prairie Inn, Lone Tree Inn and Richland Motor Inn, said personally, $5 would be the threshold. “It is the customers’ money, including Montanans. Today I can tell you that 29 percent of the customers at Golden Prairie are Montanans,” he said.
The council decided to table the discussion until the next meeting.
• Sidney Police Chief Frank DiFonzo told the council he would begin drafting an ordinance banning residents from parking trailers and recreational vehicles on streets. The current ordinance allowing 72 hours parking is being ignored, he said. “Quite frankly, we don’t have the resources to run around and check every camper or trailer sitting on city streets,” he said, “so at this point I’m of the opinion we need to readdress the issue and strictly prohibit any parking on city streets.”
• The council carried motions to annex Marketplace Subdivision into city limits and approve the final plat for the Mayo Subdivision.