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Paonia adopts fee schedule

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Paonia trustees adopted a resolution at the Sept. 22 board meeting that establishes a schedule of fees and fines.

Trustee Ross King prefaced the discussion by clarifying that the schedule was created at the direction of the board of trustees and was not ordered by town manager Jane Berry.

Berry opened discussion with a clarification of the special event liquor license fee, which after being misinterpreted had drawn critical comments from the public and members of the board. "We are not recommending raising the fees for a large-group event," which will remain at $50 per day and a maximum of $150 per event, which is as it has been for many years, said Berry.

To avoid other misinterpretations, staff made minor changes to the final draft, eliminating redundancies, adding existing fees that were omitted from the original draft, including fees for copies and faxes, and fixing errors in code section referrals. "I apologize for any confusions that I might have created with the original draft," said Berry.

Of the 152 line items on the schedule, fewer than a dozen came up for discussion and only one was amended prior to voting on the resolution.

Trustee King stated concerns about the fee for return of insufficient/bad checks to the town, which rose from $20 to $25. King asked if the bank charges the town when checks written to the town are returned. If so, the fee should be amended to $25 plus bank charges. According to finance officer Cindy Jones, they aren't charged the fee per their contract with the bank. Berry said she was unaware of any contracts. "If we have a contract from the bank where they're waiving these contracts, I'd like to see those contracts," said Berry.

King was also concerned with the per diem charge for animal confinement when animals at large are picked up, which rose from $25 to $50. Berry explained it is intended to cover vet boarding fees from the dog owner, due before they can take their animal back.

King made a motion and it was seconded to amend the schedule to $75 to recoup staff time and other associated costs with picking an animal up off the street.

Berry argued that the fee is intended to encourage responsible pet ownership. "We want the animal to go home with its owner," said Berry. "If the fee becomes so high, they might just decide to leave the dog there," which means more costs, and a homeless animal.

After hearing the argument, King withdrew his motion. "No one wants to see them abandon their animals" because of a high fee, said King. "On the other hand, changing peoples' behavior . . . we certainly want to encourage that."

The $150 fee for snow and ice removal from sidewalks is intended to get the property owner's attention, said Berry after trustees suggested it was too high and could hurt those unable to afford it.

Trustee David Bradford stated that failing to remove snow results in deterioration of sidewalks and safety hazards for pedestrians.

The one change was for the $500 fee for variance requests to the board of adjustments. The motion passed on a 4-2 vote, with King and mayor pro tem Charles Stewart voting nay.

"I'm just concerned that someone would be hesitant to bring a request if in fact they're looking at a $500 request," said Stewart.

Berry argued that a variance is a request for something that is prohibited by the town, and that the actual cost is typically much more. "The fee should be prohibitive," said Berry. "All other alternatives should be explored before someone presents a variance request."

Resident Bill Bruner called it a big mistake to attach such a high fee to requests and said that when the town was zoned no one thought the law should apply to them. "The town has a long history of handing out variances like candy," said Bruner, a former trustee. "Anybody that has to pay hundreds of dollars . . . is going to feel like they're being wronged."

In the past, fees were considered by trustees, acting as the zoning board, on a case-by-case basis. That is in violation of town ordinances, said Berry, who also said she found no consistency in the way past fees were assessed. If the process is done correctly and by law, each request can generate upwards of $3,000 in town costs.

Stewart said that many of the variance requests "are not very well founded. Perhaps if people have a cost associated with it, they may think about it."

Trustee Eric Goold called $500 "punitive." If the town wants to encourage citizens to request variances, "$500 is a lot of money to spend to have the board say no, which they can."

Fines related to crimes drew few comments.

When trustee Suzanne Watson made a motion to lower the $50 fee for a disc copy of town code book to $5, it died for lack of a second. Bruner called it disappointing. "I wish that motion would have had a second," said Bruner. "It's a shame to charge people for access to the law." He noted that the code book, which is in the process of revisio, is currently not available on the town website. In addition, said Bruner, not everyone has access to the Internet.

Elaine Brett, who described herself as "a bit of a cheerleader for the town," spoke of all the great things happening in Paonia and how busy it's been. The town was highlighted in the most recent issue of 5280 Magazine for its organic farms, wineries, and friendly atmosphere, said Brett. But the subject of the $150 fee for loitering, which was mocked on the Paonia Message Board on Facebook, could cast a negative light on the town.

Brett noted that fees make up only a small part of the town's budget and asked board members if they "examined the need, the impact, and the unintended consequences" of raising fees, reached out to constituents for input, or considered visitors to the town and "the elderly lady . . . who can't afford snow removal?"

In response, Stewart read the definition of loitering from town code, which is associated with nefarious acts such as interfering with schools, endangering students, and consumption of controlled substances, and that those considered to be loitering have been asked to leave and have refused to leave. "I think it's clear from that definition that the intent is not to simply cite people for standing around, and that is a misconception of what loitering means under the code," said Stewart.

As for fines being only a small part of the budget, Stewart responded. "With a $2 million operating budget, the town has collected roughly $11,000 in total fees and fines as of the end of July. Will that balance the budget?" he asked. "No. That's not what this is about." The schedule does help bring outdated fees in line with costs and puts in place a document that has not before existed.

"All we're trying to do is clean this up," said Stewart.

King said that the board has been pressing town staff to review fees and fines since he joined the board in 2012. At the direction of the board, they finally got it done, said King, who thanked Berry and her staff for listening to them.

Trustees also approved payment of 2016 premiums of $60,000 for the Property Casualty Pool contributions and the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRCA) Workers' Compensation pool contribution.

The cost reflects a $6,000 rate reduction over 2015 due to a reduction in payroll, said Berry. The town also had earned credits of about $1,800 that will be applied to premiums.

King, who serves on the Finance and Personnel Committee, asked Berry to consider quarterly payments to CIRCA if the 2016 budget now being drafted reflects cash flow issues.

Trustees also approved payment of $10,920 to Delta-Montrose Electric Association for upgrades to electrical services to the Upper Lamborn Mesa Water Treatment Plant. The installation of lines requires a 25-foot underground utility easement from Roeber Road to the plant. The upgrade was recommended by town engineers WestWater Engineering and is needed to provide sufficient power to the new state-mandated filtration system being constructed at the plant. The upgrade was selected over a "three-phase" power system, which was estimated at $400,000, said Berry.

The town will dig the trench for electrical lines.

Berry also reported abuses of the Town Hall restrooms, where people are "conducting their personal hygiene."

"The conditions are unsanitary, they're deplorable," and "unlike anything that you could possibly imagine," to the point of being a health hazard, said Berry. If the problem persists, anyone wishing to use the facilities will be locked and a key must be requested at the town office during business hours.

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