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Hotchkiss meeting a lesson in civics

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Photo by Randy Sunderland With the adjournment of the Hotchkiss Town Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, Larry Jakubiak ended his time as trustee. Five people have submitted applications to fill the vacancy. The town council will name a replacement at i

The opening comments to the final action of the night, Thursday's Hotchkiss Town Council meeting was a lesson on civics.

It was the final night for Larry Jakubiak on the council. In June he announced he would be resigning his position as a trustee in August, citing health reasons. There several opportunities during the meeting to recognize his long and valued service over 23 years. "It's been a roller coaster ride," said Jakubiak, "but a good one."

Mayor Wendell Koontz opens each meeting with a quote from a U.S. president. This month he chose words from John F. Kennedy, noting while he had selected the words before the problems in Charlotteville, Virginia, they are appropriate. "Let us resolve to be masters, not victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions."

He then asked Jakubiak to share a quote, from President John Adams: "There are two types of education ... one should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live."

First on the agenda was naming a replacement for Jakubiak as mayor pro tem. Koontz said John Marta would be willing to serve in that position. He then asked if other trustees were interested. Mary Hockenbery said she would also be interested.

It was moved and seconded to appoint Marta as mayor pro tem. Jakubiak then motioned that Hockenbery be appointed. His motion died for lack of a second. The motion for Marta was then approved.

Five Hotchkiss residents had submitted applications to fill the vacancy on the board. All were present at the board meeting. Before each gave a brief introduciton, Mayor Koontz asked Jakubiak if he had any thoughts to share with the applicants.

Looking at his fellow trustees, Jakubiak said, "You have heard what John (Marta) has done in the community, Tom (Wills) has a newspaper . . . Mary (Hockenberry) is the flower lady. Each trustee does a lot of things for the community," he said.

"What are you going to do for the community?" he challenged the applicants. "It is not about dimming the lights, quieting the train horn. You should be telling us what you are going to do for us (the community) . . . I've always said I'm working for that little old lady living on $800 per month."

Koontz added, "You also get the sense of civility, nonpartisanship, that comes from Larry."

The five applicants are Patrick Webb, who ran for trustee in the last municipal election; Sheila Maki, active in the community in many ways, including 12 years as trustee; Matt Kottenstette, a relatively newcomer and co-owner of an ag-related business, Farm Runners; Larry Wilkening, a retired businessman; and Pat Medina, a 20-year resident and owner of Pat's Bar and Grill.

Koontz announced the council will fill the vacancy at its September meeting.

Matt Kottenstette was on the agenda to discuss an ongoing problem of a street light shining in the bedroom of his home. He had been asked to research possible solutions.

He and his wife, Emma, "did some homework," and offered several options. The LED lights have power adjustments to change the brightness; there are after-market dimming devices which can be added to automatically adjust the brightness; and there are "house shields" . . . "a $10 fix but probably not for this instance."

He noted part of the problem is the color of the LED light, which is similar to the light of the moon, and that people in other communities are complaining.

The Town of Crawford received a similar complaint from resident Nate Sponsellar at its last board meeting.

Kottenstette also learned the light in question may be higher than necessary, and the arm holding light may be aiming the fixture out instread of down.

"Light trespass, it is what we are experiencing," said Kottenstette. "Simply adjusting the angle, height on the pole, would be an easy fix."

Several trustees commented that it appeared the solution was to start with the easy fix of adjusting the light. Because it was part of a lighting project in cooperation with Delta Montrose Electric Association, it was suggested to ask DMEA to make the adjustment.

Trustee John Marta asked, "Are we opening up a chain reaction, with others asking for the same thing?"

Trustee James Roberts stated," Let him do what he wants to do, but let him foot the bill."

Mayor Koonts responded, "That's a thought. I don't agree, but it is a thought."

The discussion came to an end as Koonts thanked Kottenstette for his homework, and "we will take a look at this."

The board also considered a request from Kathy Welt, on behalf of Mountain Coal Company, for a letter of support for a royalty reduction for a portion of the coal it could mine at its West Elk Mine. She explained the company is seeking continuation of a royalty reduction on about 10.5 million tons of coal reserves, reducing the rate from the normal 8 percent to 5 percent for the market price per ton. She said the geologic conditions make these seams more expensive to mine safely, and the rate reduciton is needed to make the resource economically viable for extraction.

The board discussed the matter, with Mayor Koontz noting he was an employee at the mine and had submitted the original application.

Jakubiak asked about the royalty, and "where it goes."

It was explained that the royalty is split equally between the federal government and the state. The state divides its share between several agencies, including schools. Delta County is impacted through one program, providing funds based on where employees live.

Trustee Mary Hockenberry opposed the request, saying, "I believe the coal industry is heavily subsidized and not bearing the cost of global warming.

Kathy Browning, a Hotchkiss resident, was allowed to read a letter she had prepared on the request, asking why the Hotchkiss residents are being asked to subsidize on of America's largest corporations? She compared the town's annual revenues to the revenues of Mountain Coal Company's parent company, Arch Coal in the second quarter of this year, noting its revenue was more than 671 times the general fund revenues for the town in 2016.

She also compared the personal income of Arch Coal's CEO John Eaves to that of a Hotchkiss resident, painting a stark contract. "With the lack of wealth in the Hotchkiss community, there is no reason whatsoever to accommodate Arch Coal in this royalty reduction," stated Browning. As Browning finished reading her letter, many in the audience responded with applause.

Mayor Koontz accepted Browning's letter.

John Marta motioned to approve the letter of support, seconded by James Roberts. It was approved with Mary Hockenberry in opposition.

The council also approved a 3 percent coat of living increase for town department heads. The pay increase was put on hold when the 2017 budget was approved. After reviewing the town's financial situation, Mayor Koontz reported that sales tax revenues are a little high for the year and the departments have done a good job of reducing costs. An anticipated $123,000 deficit will probably be around $70,000.

Jakubiak noted that the 3 percent increase, or even 2 percent, would serve as an incentive for the department heads to continue to control costs.

Hockenberry asked, "Is it normal to run as a deficient? I am new to this budget thing . . . I'll be the fiscal conservative this evening and voice a concern."

Jakubiak motioned to increase the pay for department heads by 3 percent, effective with the Aug. 31 payroll. Roberts seconded. It was unanimously approved.

The final civics lesson of the night came after trustee Lindee Cantrell motioned to adjourn. "Second" was heard from other trustees.

"The last official thing from me," said Jakubiak with smile. "You don't need a second for a motion to adjourn."

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