Archive for Thursday, January 20, 2005

City Council continues connection fee debate

January 20, 2005

Because of a missed deadline, the issue of allowing developers to pre-pay sewer connection fees before scheduled rate increases became a moot point and the Basehor City Council was able to avoid making a decision Tuesday night.

During its meeting, the City Council was scheduled to vote on rescinding a previous motion allowing Pinehurst developers to pre-pay 20 sewer connection fees. However, after council members learned that developers hadn't paid the fees by a Jan. 15 deadline, the item was removed from the agenda.

"To me, it's a moot point then," said Julian Espinoza, the City Council president who served as interim mayor Tuesday night due to the absence of Basehor mayor Joseph Scherer.

The City Council was also scheduled to form a policy regarding pre-paid connection fees during its work session following the meeting. That discussion too, has been delayed until city staff can learn what policies other municipalities use regarding the issue.The issue of pre-paid connection fees, one in which the council seems divided, first arose in December 2004 when developers began requesting to deviate from the normal city practice of paying for connection fees at the time rather than when building permits are issued.

The end of the year request was a way developers could pay the 2004 rate of $1,600 per hook-up instead of waiting until 2005 when the rates increased to $2,200 per hook up.

The City Council has bounced back and forth on the issue.

In December 2004, it approved the Pinehurst request to pre-pay 20 sewer connection fees at the 2004 rate.

A week later, Pinehurst came back with a similar proposal for an additional 33 connections as did Scherer Construction, a company of the mayor's, for 31 connections.

Both were rejected after city treasurer Baron Powell submitted a memo that indicated approving pre-paid connection fees would have "significant negative impacts on the financial status of the sewer fund."

Sources to recoup the money lost on the pre-paid connection fees would be higher monthly utility bills or property taxes, the treasurer contended.

On the heels of the Pinehurst and Scherer Construction rejections, City Council members began considering whether to rescind the original approval of Pinehurst's connection fees.

City Council member Iris Dysart said Tuesday night that she believed the council "ought to act quickly to rescind" its Pinehurst approval because she felt the city was setting a bad precedent.

If the pre-paid connections are approved for one developer, others will follow, she said.

"Our own mayor was back the next week wanting it," Dysart.

City Council member John Bonee, himself a developer, said he favors allowing the pre-paid connection fees if the city could adopt a uniform policy instead of deciding on ad hoc basis. Throughout the pre-paid connection fees debate, neither Bonee nor any representatives of his company submitted a request for pre-payments on any project.

Bonee, a proponent of economic development, said allowing the pre-payments would be similar to the city helping any business, which in the long run is good for sustained economic growth.

"Why is it so wrong to help out a business regardless of whether that business is an 'evil developer' or not?" Bonee said.

Council member Keith Sifford said the city already has a policy in place regarding the connection fees and it's that very procedure developers are asking to be exempt from.

The bottom line, said Sifford, who cited Powell's memo as evidence, is that allowing the pre-payments is "obviously a revenue loss" to the city.

"It seems to me like we already have a policy in place," he said.

City officials said the issue of pre-paid sewer connection fees will be revisited during a work session Monday, Jan. 24 following the regularly scheduled council meeting.

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