Priest River celebrates staff, reevaluates ordinances at meeting

Staff Writer | August 5, 2020 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — Congratulations are in order for city clerk Laurel Thomas, who is celebrating 15 years with city staff this month. Thomas was sufficiently surprised by Mayor Jim Martin’s grand gesture at Monday’s council meeting.

“We have an employee that has been with us for 15 years,” Martin said. “Imagine that, 15 years. So, I am going to embarrass Laurel, because it is 15 years this month that she was hired on with the city.”

The group of people in attendance including all council members clapped and cheered while Martin pulled an engraved plaque out of a box and reminisced about his beginning days as the mayor of Priest River.

Through the years, Martin said Thomas has been there for him every step of the way.

“It was right before I was elected mayor and after I was elected I kept her on as city clerk,” Martin said. This is when Thomas was sent for a work training session in Boise, he said.

Thomas got her hotel, her flight, her car and was set for the event, or so she thought. Martin then received a panicked call from Thomas.

“She’s crying and I am like, ‘What’s wrong?,’” he said. “And she’s like, ‘They won’t let me rent the car,’ I am not old enough.’”

Thomas was laughing as she stood up to receive her award. “That was embarrassing,” she said.

Following city council updates and announcements resident Jake Hatfield stood before council to request an $8,000 fee be waived for an abandoned water and sewer connection.

According to Ordinance 603 established in April 2019, “All water and/or sewer connections that have been abandoned or have not been used for 36 consecutive months or that for any reason have become useless for further service shall be deemed an abandoned connection. Any abandoned connection shall be disconnected at the main by the property owner or the Public Works Department, and all pipe and appurtenances removed shall be the property of the city.”

Hatfield first argued the ordinance has not been in effect for 36 months. In addition, he pointed out that his property was purchased in 2018 and his connection had only been turned off for 28 months.

“I guess mostly I would like clarification of this ordinance,” Hatfield said. “Before I purchased the property the previous owner had it turned off since I believe October 2015. But, when I purchased the property, I paid to turn on the fee the day that I paid it. So, I believe I do not fall underneath the abandoned connection ordinance.”

Martin was in support of waiving Hatfield’s connection fee.

“The ordinance was passed after you purchased the property, so it kind of puts you in a difficult position of even knowing that it had been shut off that long prior to you buying the house,” Martin said.

City attorney Katherine Elsaesser agreed with Hatfield and Martin. She felt the language in the ordinance was unclear and should be reevaluated to prevent future concerns.

“One of the other issues that I noticed is that it doesn’t clearly state whether or not the 36 months includes prior owners or just the current owner, so we have a responsibility to put people on notice of what’s expected,” Elsaesser said. “I do think we need to be more clear.”

The council unanimously approved Hatfield’s request to waive his abandoned connection fee.

Council also approved an annexation agreement with owners of the 1180 Highway 57 property, and approved a purchase for a city purchase for an excavator and trailer.

Phase III of the Wastewater Collection System Upgrades Project was also discussed at the Aug. 3 meeting. Construction for this project first began in 2019 and Big Sky Corporation’s contract is about 75 percent complete. Remaining work on the project includes installing $1,500 feet of sewer line and replacing 2 manholes.

The final closing date for the Wastewater Collection System Upgrades Project is March 2021.