Chugwater finances and public records policies challenged; new clerk and treasurer sworn in


CHUGWATER — A quorum was established by the skin of its teeth on January 8 due to absences caused by illness, however, the council was able to proceed. 

Councilmember John Burns confronted spending and budget as the monthly water and sewer report was reviewed. Burns asked about water-related expenses saying, “We are significantly over budget, and we keep approving these bills. We will be past our annual budget at this rate.”

Mayor Carol Ash indicated the items under review for approval were listed line-by-line on the report. Nevertheless, Burns expressed concern about not making it through the fiscal year.

“We may have to transfer funds from our Capital Improvements account due to our ongoing water and sewer problems,” Ash explained.

When Ash asked how Burns came up with his figures, he simply said, “I took what the annual budget was and divided by twelve.”

With monies available via the newly voted-in 6th Penny Tax, Ash stated that a budget review would begin in March. Additionally, Ash stated the preapproved resources for truck repair and maintenance (between seven and eight thousand dollars) would not need to be used as councilmember Steve Kelly would be addressing vehicle concerns and repairs due to his years of experience.

“We will have a special meeting to review the budget,” Ash said.

Burns retorted by saying that he would prefer to address the issue rather than “throwing money at it.” Ash suggested a workshop to get everything on the table. “I agree,” she conceded, “that water and sewer issues have cost us a lot.”

Ash also explained councilmember Kelly would take over the repair of the sewer truck, which had been scheduled for maintenance with an area garage.

“We have been having trouble getting the sewer truck to run,” said Kelly. “I’m very familiar with this type of vehicle and have gotten the go-ahead from Pete Delgado (temporary head of water and sewer) to address the issue since I have the necessary experience.” Kelly added he wanted the council and the public to be fully aware of who was working on the vehicle(s) and why.

Ash added it was critical to make sure all vehicles are working up to speed and because of Kelly’s expertise, the vehicle would not have to be taken to a garage for repairs or replacement, thereby saving money. Kelly explained the vehicle could be used for a variety of general maintenance uses in addition to cleaning main sewer lines or clearing blockages in an emergency. “The truck is equipped with a water pump,” he said. “It’s almost like a fire truck: ready to go when you need it. It’s the engine that is the issue.” 

An inquiry from the public zeroed in on the condition of the vehicle in question. “Why wasn’t the motor checked and regularly tested? While I understand that things break down, how is it that it is in disrepair? It seems that it could be another big expenditure.”

In answer, councilmember Kelly responded he was not with the department when the vehicle was originally purchased and maintained, and Ash added, “[the] previous staff wasn’t aware to check and run the vehicle regularly,” but by having Kelly address repairs, money would be saved by not hiring an outside mechanic.

Public Records Access Fees

In response to a letter of complaint submitted to the state regarding public records access and copying fees and request for reimbursement, Ash tabled the complaint. She stated her reasoning is because the town attorney was not present, who, according to Ash, “has been working with the state to fine-tune what a reasonable charge for services would be.” Those decisions are still pending.

Councilmember Burns countered, the letter from the governor’s office stated the current fees were unreasonable. In response, Ash said, “We are looking at other standards in the state and pulling cost records to determine what is and what is not reasonable for our community. We will have a special meeting on that, but it is tabled for now.” It was reiterated the high cost of copies ($1 per page) was out of line with the state.

During open forum a resident requested the council workshops be scheduled at a more appropriate time for public attendance. “Five o’clock is not a reasonable time for working people,” she said. “If you want people involved, let’s make it easier for us to be involved. I hear from others that they cannot make that timeframe work.”

Councilmember Burns replied the resident had a valid point. “With the election coming up, let’s do get the town involved so they can stay informed. I am for workshop meetings, and I think this is a good point, I have sometimes almost missed [the workshop] myself because I was busy with work.” He also stated that he knew there were more people that would like to be involved with both the workshops and council meetings.

Some public comment was made by property owners who were not residents of the incorporated town and wondered if they had a “say” in what happened in the community, since they did not have the power to vote as non-residents. There was also concern regarding the retention of a town attorney, and how legal counsel billed for hours, such as reviewing the letter from the state and attending council meetings. “This seems like an unnecessary expenditure. Can’t we scrutinize how the town lawyer is being used? Are we really paying him to write a letter or make a phone call?”

“When I was mayor, we sometimes had people who were unqualified drafting contracts and agreements; when I spoke with other towns, most mayors who have workshops and meetings wouldn’t even think about meeting without an attorney present,” Burns responded. “The attorney is there to keep the town out of trouble if there are lawsuits. Plus, we do contracts with construction or pipeline companies, for example. None of us are attorneys. They are here to protect us from being cheated and from lawsuits in daily operation. But I again encourage anyone to attend these meetings so you can see how things are done and to ask questions.”

Another resident stated that she had never been to any council meetings in other towns where a lawyer was not present.

“It is my policy: we are a community and the town does vote on leadership, but when it comes to input, we expect that everyone who comes into this community has a voice,” Mayor Ash said. 

Burns echoed this statement, “We want to hear and listen to what people have to say. We are here to serve the town and its people, and its people are you: the business owner. So as far as I’m concerned, what you have to say carries a lot of weight.”

Upcoming Elections

As the council investigates the year and coming elections, there will be some vacancies both on the council and in the position of mayor. “We will have at least three vacancies on the council,” said Ash. “I will be replaced along with at least two councilmembers. There is a lot coming down that needs to be addressed.”

She added that if anyone was interested in the positions of councilmember or mayor, they should definitely “speak up”, as whoever steps into those roles needs to be intimately aware of the laundry list of issues facing the community.

Concerning recent vacancies, a new town clerk and treasurer were sworn in. Dave Clough, a long-time resident of Chugwater, was officially sworn in as the treasurer, who, according to Ash, has a great deal of experience including that of securing grants and finding other funding. Alongside Clough will be Vicki Rae Klein, sworn in as the town clerk. Klein is a four-year resident of Chugwater and native of Wheatland. She is retired from WYDOT where she worked for 24 years as a fuel tax examiner.

With the addition of two positions, this allows town office hours to be extended, although specific hours are yet to be determined. Additionally, according to Ash, the expectation of providing benefits in addition to the salaries is non-existent as both Clough and Klein are retired and working part-time, sharing the responsibilities of being available in the office.

“This saves us $8,000 in the fiscal year if we do not have to pay into a retirement plan,” said Ash.

The next meeting of the council will be 7 p.m. Monday, February 5.