MONTPELIER — The Senate bill that would make the City of St. Albans affiliate fees illegal is to get a rewrite.
the Senate Committee on Government Operations discussed the bill, S.176Tuesday, March 8. Originally drafted to require voters to approve water rates, the bill is now being revisited with the aim of prohibiting one municipality from taxing residents of another.
State Sen. Jeanette White (D-Putney), chair of the committee, called for the change.
“That’s my main concern here is that this is a property tax imposed on a resident of a different city,” White said.
The committee made no decision on the bill, as the new official language is to be drafted by Legislative Counsel Tucker Anderson. He remains in committee.
The Affiliate Fee itself is the result of failed deliberations between the City and the City of St. Albans over water usage rates. Established in 2015, the city ordinance requires any property seeking a water/sewer hookup outside of city limits to sign a contract that allows the city to charge an annual fee in addition to utility payments. use of water.
City officials say it’s an illegal property tax, and city officials say it’s an annual fee to access city water rates.
Both parties blame the other for the emergence of the royalty. At the last committee meeting on the bill, City Manager Dominic Cloud said it was put in place after talks between towns and cities failed, and that it is a way to work directly with developers to achieve fair water rates on city-owned infrastructure. At the same meeting, former selection committee chair Brendan Deso called the city’s overrun fee that requires corrective action by the legislature.
At Tuesday’s meeting, State Senator Corey Parent (R-St. Albans) defined the fee as the city being unreasonable about rates for water use because he said government-owned water and sewer services should be a public good.
“I think it’s a nuclear option,” Parent said. “And I think other cities could get to this point where they’re using this nuclear option and there’s no way for cities to come together and negotiate deals when the nuclear options are engaged.”
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, lawmakers primarily heard from parent and state Rep. Lynn Dickinson (R-St. Albans Town) who both argued the city’s positions on the fees.
When Dickinson began to explain some of the city’s efforts to control its water allocations and therefore general economic development in St. Albans, White questioned why the city was going this route when it could buy an allocation of water. water, finance extensions of water/sewer services or pay the sum of membership dues charged to its residents.
The cost to pay the fees for residents in 2022 would have been around $100,000. Cloud also questioned why the city wasn’t paying fees for residents in several public interviews, and when asked directly if the move had been considered, city officials dodged the question.
They have since focused on creating a separate sewage/water system near St. Albans Bay to serve the area, and they have opened talks with the municipalities of Swanton to see how to use the better millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act to accumulate water. /sewer infrastructure and encourage development.
“We have basically given up on trying to work with the city administration on this issue for the time being and are instead focusing on developing our own infrastructure and working with other like-minded neighbors on the regional economic development and the role of a municipality. in creating growth,” Deso said in an emailed statement in December.
City officials have also provided no direct evidence that the fee is stunting growth, which Parent says is why he opposes the city’s implementation of the fee despite everyone’s representation. Franklin County voters.
“It’s obviously a tricky situation,” Parent said. “I represent both communities and some people are going to say, ‘You choose this side over this side. [State Rep.] Lynne [Dickinson] doesn’t quite have that risk. I see this as a Vermont regional and statewide issue and focus on it, which honestly most people in our position stay out of. That’s because we’re growing up a lot in northwest Vermont. Like, we’re going to do gangbusters and that’s fine, but people need water and sewers and because we have – it’s funny – it slows growth. It slows down. It’s a brake.
Parent is employed by the City of St. Albans as Director of Operations.
Impacts on other communities
Others attending Tuesday’s meeting included Ed and Sally Groff, a couple who pay the annual dues, and Gwynn Zakov, a municipal policy advocate with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
When Zakov was asked to weigh in on the bill as proposed, she declined to say much because it would put the VLCT in a “really uncomfortable position.”
“This bill clearly deals with a very specific situation between two communities. I don’t know if it has any impact on other communities based on the language you used, because it seems the City of St. Albans is the one that uses this type of rate payment structure, and because we represent both communities, it’s really impossible for us to influence that without hurting the relationship of either community,” she said.
With the bill being amended to eliminate out-of-bounds property taxes, Zakov warned that the new language proposed by White could have impacts on how other communities charge water fees. Charging higher water rates outside of a municipality’s borders is common government practice, but the City of St. Albans may be unique in assessing perpetual annual charges based on property value.
“My main concern is that a city should not impose a property tax on another resident of the city, regardless of the number of years or whatever,” White said.
Lawmakers agreed they would consider its broader impacts before making decisions on the bill.
White’s request to change the bill, however, would not resolve disagreements over water and sewer between the two municipalities. The city’s 2015 affiliation ordinance requires that a moratorium on hookups be put in place if the charges are found to be illegal.
“I invited the city to come to our meeting, and you don’t need to change state law. Come to our meeting and say you want us to turn off our faucet,” Cloud said. “If they can’t do this, why are they changing state law and pushing every community in the state into our interlocal debate?”
During the meeting, Parent said that the bill does not affect St. Albans, but that its passage would prevent other communities in Vermont, such as Rutland and Montpelier, from taking similar steps to charge airfares. water based on property value.
“You know, we’re caught up in the St. Albans thing. I think we’re the only place in the country where that’s happening, because I don’t think it’s a good thing for that to happen,” he said.