Trustees for the Town of Hotchkiss voted unanimously last week to make a rare exception to finance almost $10,000 in tap fees in what they all agree is a very unique situation.
The Hillman House Trust agreed to make monthly payments of $466 for two years to pay for water and sewer tap fees associated with the home they are building for Mike Hillman. The husband and father of two teenagers was severely injured after being knocked from a ladder while tree-trimming late last May.
Hotchkiss residents and close friends Ray and Celeste Waske are spearheading efforts to build a custom home for the Hillman family. They and a small army of volunteers, friends, church members and local and regional businesses raised enough money and in-kind donations of services and material to purchase land and begin building the 1,676-square-foot house, which will provide full handicapped accessibility and voice activation.
They are preparing this week to pour the foundation, said Celeste Waske, a board member for the trust, who originally made the request for help with the cost of the fees at the Aug. 18 council meeting. At the time, mayor pro tem Larry Jakubiak expressed concern over setting precedent and suggested the possibility of a payment plan. In considering a donation, town policy doesn't really fit, said Jakubiak.
"Obviously we cannot donate a water and sewer tap," said trustee Tom Wills. Because taps cost the town money, cash would be required to balance the water and sewer funds.
"I agree that it's a slippery slope for the water and sewer fund, because they are enterprise funds and they are regulated differently." said Mayor Wendell Koontz, "They are public funds, and by nature they have to be treated very differently."
Trustee Jim Roberts played devil's advocate, saying that if they cut fees for Hillman House, "We're going to have to cut the next guy in line a break, and we can't afford it. A two-year payment plan would work for me, and, as far as I'm concerned, the town. As far as waiving it, no."
The town has created payment plans in at least two other situations, said Wills. "This is a unique situation and I think it has pretty broad support from the community."
Trustee agreed to John Marta's suggestion of a balloon payment at the end of the two years with an option to renew the contract.
Mayor Koontz asked Waske if the trust can afford the payments.
"Local contributions have been amazing," said Waske. But because total construction costs remain unknown and some donations have yet to materialize, they don't yet know what they can afford. She assured trustees that they will do what is necessary to make it work.
Town attorney Bo Nerlin said he can draw up an agreement that will protect the town in the event the trust is unable to pay off the debt.
Trustees also voted to help with their portion of the $2,049 in building permit fees, of which the building inspector receives 80 percent and the town 20 percent. Mayor Koontz recommended that the town waive its share of the split, but said they can't waive the inspector's share.
Trustee Mary Hockenbery said this sets precedence. Since building permits are commonly issued, she asked if this had ever been done before and what the town will say to the next person. "I'm all for it, but again, we're looking at a tighter budget and things that we're going to have to cut."
"I'm for it and I understand what Mary's saying," said Wills. "But it's so unique. For somebody to come in and have all the same circumstances again is probably pretty unlikely."
"We'll take whatever we can get, and be grateful," said Waske. She explained that the trust will own the house indefinitely and the Hillmans can live there as long as they need it. Because it's in a trust, they are protected from a financial perspective. When they no longer need it, said Waske, the trust will open the house to others in the North Fork area whose situations are also unique.
"It is truly a community home," she said. For now, "It's primarily the Hillmans'."
When asked when the house will be finished, "We're going to move quickly because Mike comes home on Nov. 3," said Waske.
Waske told trustees that Mike is doing "very well" and was anticipating a fishing trip last weekend. Craig Hospital, she explained, has more than 90 beds and a lot of turnover. They care for a lot of patients, she said. Mike's physical therapists told them that patients often receive a great deal of support from communities, including helping with needed upgrades to homes. "But they've never seen a community build one a home."