Extended Byron Days program, possible utility rate raises eyed

Good news (a first-time expanded Byron Days celebration to last three days) and possibly not-so-good news (the indication that water and sewer rates need to be raised) were among topics during a meeting of the Byron Town Council on Tuesday night, May 13.

The two-hour regular meeting in the town hall was preceded by a one-hour work session. Although several items were to be discussed during the latter, the 60 minutes were consumed by dealing with revisions to the town’s water and sewer ordinances. The principal change in mind, approved 4-1 with dissent from Councilor Drew Wilson during the regular gathering preceded by even more discussion, was to write the ordinances so that they do not list specific dollar amounts, but are written “to cover the necessary costs and raises.”

Additionally, several wording changes were made. One was to use “water utility customer” instead of “water user.” Other word revisions focus on the frequency for town councils to review rates and related issues including costs of maintenance and repairs. Mayor Pam Hopkinson emphasized that the citizenry is invited to comment on any proposed changes. For the first of three readings Councilor Alan Bair moved for passing the revised ordinance “based on the document before the clerk” and that “copies will be made available” to any property owner asking for one at the town hall.

The council was advised by Greybull resident Ross Jorgensen of Wyoming Rural Water that the town for many years essentially has been subsidizing the utility system for residents. Increases in water and sewer utility charges thus are indicated, he reported. For the sewerage Byron has been paying $27,242 per year to cover operation and maintenance costs, meaning that the town would need to increase the monthly sewer charge for residents from $15.50 to $25.55. Jorgensen stated that “water department expenses of $105,505 … exceeded revenue by $42,234. This shows,” he explained, “that the town’s general fund or water reserves subsidized the department at an estimated rate of $15.57 per tap per month or $186.84 per tap per year.”

He added that the “water department expenditures are not out of line with operating a distribution system of this size. The present rate structure is what needs to be addressed to increase revenues to begin bringing the department toward sustainability.”

During his lengthy presentation Jorgensen provided several ideas and options to remedy the situation. One would increase the basic water rate from $17.50 per month to $22.55. Another would be to increase “the basic rate to all taps to a minimum $18.50 per month to cover the cost of a $1 per month increase charge by Shoshone Municipal Pipeline and drop giving customers the first 3,000 gallons at no charge.” He also recommended establishing a dedicated maintenance reserve fund and capital replacement reserves.

The mayor thanked him for the report, noting that the council is taking it under advisement and will continue pondering what actions might follow based on his recommendations.

Three-day event

Regarding the town’s annual celebration, with the fireworks show and a town park full of vendor food and product booths and other attractions that draws hundreds of visitors, Hopkinson introduced Byronites Rebecca Bates and Victoria Dixon as co-chairmen of the annual Byron Days program. She asked the council for its support to officially appoint them and the vote was 5-0 in favor. They’ve already been working, said the mayor, and she is pleased with their plans and progress for the program that will run from Thursday, July 10, through Saturday, July 12.

Besides the premiere of a three-day celebration, another “first” planned by the co-chairman for the first day is a variety show “with local talent.” There also will be a Zumba event, a carnival and a dance for teenagers with music by a DJ.

The dance theme is “Color the Night” and will include “a lot of fun” by attendees being able to use corn starch-based, washable dye to “decorate” each other. Color also will be a factor for the second day, as the same dye will be used by participants in the annual fun run. The mayor noted that this year there will be a $5 fee for T-shirts to help offset costs of the overall program, especially the pyrotechnics show.

The Byron Lions Club again will direct the annual parade on Saturday and serve a barbecue lunch in the park. An inflatable bounce house will be available for youngsters, plus a DJ, and games and other activities will be offered for young children at the baseball field. Additionally, it is hoped that the Byron Lions will conduct a dedication of the revamped Memorial Park.

The co-sponsors said that they have learned through the years that besides residents who attend Byron Days, visitors who come from a wide area are highly complimentary of the celebration. Many term the events “the best in the West,” said Bates and Dixon. They have secured approximately $1,000 in sponsorship donations “with more coming in.” Bair has continually protested that the town should not spend taxpayer funds on the fireworks show and the mayor has been assuring him that steps are being taken this year to help reduce costs to the town. As usual, Byron Days will conclude with “a great big fireworks show,” said the co-chairmen.

In another matter the council approved the proposed budget of $846,302 for the 2014-15 fiscal year on second reading. One more reading is forthcoming. Regarding a rise of $7,000 (to $87,800) for general adminstration salaries and wages the mayor said after the meeting that, “The raise in the salary figure for admin is to cover any potential cost of living or wage increases.”

Petrich no longer Town rec director

Among April bills were two showing that Victoria Dickson is getting $200 per month and Kayla Gruell $180 for rec department labors. Jeanie Petrich had been serving as rec director at $200 per month, but her name was not among bills. Asked about that, Hopkinson said after the meeting that Petrich was receiving the $200 plus additional for activities that she ran. She added, “The board (appointed for the first time earlier this year) decided to divide the responsibilities between two people in order to add more activities and build a bigger rec program.”

That led to the question of why Petrich no longer is in the job. She declined to comment when contacted, and a copy of her letter of resignation was requested from Clerk/Treasurer Donna Booth. The letter, dated Jan. 10, states in part:

“I would like to inform you that I am resigning effective Jan. 7. It was very obvious to me that the rec board and myself could not work well together and instead of the constant disagreements and arguments it would be in the best interest of the rec department if I resigned. Thank you for the opportunities you have given me during the past 4+ years. I have really enjoyed working with all of you.” The mayor said that she had accepted the resignation on behalf of the town’s elected officials.

In other matters the council:

*Authorized the transfer of $45,342 from the general fund to the streets fund to pay for the recent repair of 10,965 feet of asphalt at various locations.

*Approved the third reading of a revised rubbish ordinance and the second readings of the mosquito ordinance and the copy and fax ordinance.

*OK’d payment of $32,658 worth of bills and the April payroll of $19,024.