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Four Corners Water and Sewer District Attempts to Purchase Utility Solutions

Second go at purchasing the privately run utility in the Four Corners area.  If this is not a success, the district will be disbanded.

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by Michael Tucker, Belgrade News

While residents were on hand Tuesday to complain to the Gallatin County Commission Tuesday about an annual tax levy by the Four Corners Water and Sewer District, the bigger story is the district’s second attempt to purchase Utility Solutions, said Susan Swimley, attorney for the district.

Every year, users in the district are assessed a tax levy that appears on residents’ county tax bill coupled with monthly water and sewer bills, according to district records. The levy has nothing to do with monthly rates, but does go toward services in the area.

The levy is charged to each and every parcel of ground whether the land is built upon or vacant, according to district records. Historically, board members determined assessing every piece of ground was the only equitable way to charge fees as everyone will benefit from the service. If the levy were based on taxable property value, Zoot Enterprises would have to foot 25 percent of the bill. The company has sued the district in past citing inequitable practices.

In the past, the levy was used to pay down debt owed to Utility Solutions, a private water and sewer company that serves the public district, according to district records.

In this case, the district wants to use the tax levy to put toward buying the utility, Swimley said. A similar attempt failed in 2009. The deal fell through after state and federal government agencies declined to loan the district money because of the low build-out in the area, according to district records. The district was about 25 percent built out at that time.

The district boundaries include Durston Road to the north, approximately Lower Rainbow Road to the south, Jackrabbit Lane and U.S. Highway 191 to the east and roughly the West Gallatin River to the west. The district also includes the noncontiguous subdivisions of Black Bull Run, Middle Creek Parkland, Triple Creek Meadow and Gallatin Heights.

The district has entered into an open agreement with Utility Solutions for about $19 million, Swimley said. But that number will likely be boosted by $2 million because the utility is currently expanding its waste water treatment facility. The bond would span for three years.

The purchase is scheduled for either spring 2015 or fall, Swimley said. In order for a bond to be considered eligible, 40 percent of property owners must return their ballot.

If the vote fails, the district will turn the matter over to the Public Service Commission and disband the Four Corners Water and Sewer District, Swimley said.

On Tuesday, however, residents were more focused on the proposed $632.87 tax levy that will attached to their property tax bill. The district passed the levy Aug. 19 to assess the $632 bill to 1,218 lots in the district. The assessment has been on a decline since the 2010 rate of $675.

As far as the law is concerned, the commission had no choice but to approved the levy, according to a 2010 County Attorney opinion on the matter issued by Marty Lambert.

Many residents, similar to years past, said they were not familiar with the tax levy even though the district has conducted a levy for some time.

In the end, the commission approved the levy, but Commissioner Joe Skinner said the district could improve its public presence.

“In my mind, it doesn’t do much good to come here and comment,” he told the crowd. “The meeting you need to go to is the water sewer district meetings. It’s a little late to come here.”

The Four Corners Water and Sewer District meets every third Tuesday of the month at Monforton School.