BOCCC discusses intent of JPB agreement

County commissioners host Saratoga mayor John Zeiger, others in response to concerns raised by Councilmember Jon Nelson


April 29, 2020

For the second time this month, the ongoing debate over the Town of Saratoga’s finances spilled from the Saratoga Town Council’s chambers and into those of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners (BOCCC). At their April 21 meeting, the county commissioners hosted Saratoga mayor John Zeiger, Town of Saratoga legal counsel Tom Thompson and James Childress, the certified public accountant engaged by the Town of Saratoga.

As was reported previously (see “Taxation without representation?” on page 2 of the April 15 Saratoga Sun), Councilmember Jon Nelson had spoken with the BOCCC about his concerns regarding funds for the Saratoga-Carbon County Impact Joint Powers Board (SCCIJPB) that are managed by the Town of Saratoga. Zeiger informed the commissioners that he and the others wished to respond to Nelson’s concerns.

“When Mr. Nelson appeared at the last meeting, he did not appear on behalf of the Saratoga Town Council. He was not at the commissioners’ meeting with any given authority to speak for the Town of Saratoga. His relationship to the joint powers board is he was appointed by me as the council rep (representative),” said Zeiger. 

Following Zeiger’s introduction, Thompson addressed the BOCCC regarding the joint powers board agreement that had formed the SCCIJPB. The original agreement that formed the joint powers board cited an expected increase of population in both Saratoga and Carbon County due to mineral development and coal mining. It further stated that such an increase would see a demand for “increased municipal services such as water, and sewer systems, far exceeding the capacity of such systems that presently exist.”

Thompson reminded the commissioners that no such increase of population occurred as had been expected when the agreement was entered into by both parties. He argued that the agreement does not provide for the development of water and sewer outside the corporate limits of Saratoga, adding that the Town of Saratoga has out-of-town water and sewer users “independent of this agreement” and stated that the out-of-town users had separate agreements with the Town of Saratoga.

This, however, would not explain why the SCCIJPB discussed, developed and approved a modified water rate structure in 2019 that was, ultimately, approved by the Saratoga Town Council on July 2, 2019. That rate structure, seemingly in lieu of a memorandum of understanding with each user of the system, increased the rates for out-of-town water users to 15 percent more than what is paid by in-town water users. 

Thompson argued that, due to language in the joint powers board agreement, the SCCIJPB could only claim ownership over the extended portions of the water and sewer systems since 1976. He also argued that the joint powers board was not entitled to all user fees from the water and sewer system, but only those user fees and tap fees from the extended portion of the systems.

Commissioner Sue Jones, who has served both on the Saratoga Town Council and the SCCIJPB, appeared to take issue with Thompson’s stance on the joint powers board agreement. Jones stated she felt the intent of the agreement “should be worth something.”

“The intent was that it was set up to operate and build a water and sewer system. Those are the reasons that joint powers (boards) as we all know are set up,” said Jones. “They need expertise, they need to be separate, so two entities go together to do that. The glaring thing that I can see about this agreement is that it needs some amendments, a whole bunch of them, to come to current statute but I think the intent was still the same; that it operate the water and sewer system and those funds be used for that.”

Jones added that she believes the “easy fix” was for Saratoga Town Council to reaffirm the intent of the joint powers board agreement and that any water and sewer funds were to be used explicitly for water and sewer. A motion similar to Jones’ suggestion was attempted at the Saratoga Town Council meeting (see “Questioning changes” on page 1) but ultimately failed. The commissioner also stated that any rewrite to bring the joint powers board agreement in line with current state statute should give the joint powers board “the power that was intended for it to have” and that “it needs to be a cleaner bookkeeping system than it’s ever been.”

“These issues should be relatively easy to clean up since it’s been the same bookkeeper for many, many years,” Jones said. “So, that shouldn’t be too difficult.”

No action was taken on part of the BOCCC.

The next meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. on May 5 at the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins.


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