County Watch |

County Watch

Before approving a roughly $4 million budget for Summit County’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District for 2006, the Summit County Commission was hammered by a Park City attorney for continuing to charge standby fees to landowners who are not connected to the system.

Growth is expected to cause the costs to purchase and produce water to increase slightly next year, but Mountain Regional’s outside legal fees are expected to rise 65 percent, Mountain Regional Chief Financial Officer Scott Green said. "From an operations standpoint, all of the cheap water is gone," he said, adding that importing water from outside the Snyderville Basin is expensive. According to Green, litigating an antitrust lawsuit against Summit Water Distribution Company has eaten up the district’s legal coffers. That case could go to trail after the Utah Supreme Court recently ruled against the county. The Summit County Attorney’s Office requested Mountain Regional ask for more money to pay for outside attorneys to litigate cases deputy county attorneys cannot handle, Green said. "We need to hire outside counsel and that’s very expensive," Green added during a budget hearing last week in Coalville. The Summit County Commission doesn’t expect Mountain Regional’s water rates to increase in 2006. Meanwhile, during last week’s public hearing, Basin resident Chris Hague, an attorney, claimed that Mountain Regional has no legal authority to charge standby fees to customers not connected to the system.

The county currently charges lot owners in the district who are not connected $38.50 per month. In 2006, the standby fee will drop to $33.50.

"We allocate costs proportionately between our water users and customers who are not using water at this time," Green said.

County officials claim the fees are justified because they help the district have infrastructure available for landowners to connect in the future.

"The fee is going down," Green said.

But, though debt-service costs are not factored into the standby fee, the amount of the fee was determined randomly without county officials properly studying the matter, Hague countered.

"It seems really unfair," he said, adding, "what is the theory behind this?"

The standby fees have Hague and other lawyers litigating against Summit County. But, county attorneys have advised the Summit County Commission that charging standby fees is legal.

"You need to question your counselors as to, where is this authority for standby fees," Hague advised commissioners. "This reduction is indicative of the fact that maybe they’re starting to hear our clients’ cries."

State law doesn’t address standby fees, however, the authority of Summit County’s water concurrency ordinance and Mountain Regional’s rules and regulations provide commissioners power to charge the fees, county officials claim.

"I wouldn’t say it’s common," said deputy Summit County attorney Renee Spooner when asked if other water entities charge standby fees. Sun Peak hotel decision

Hundreds of residents who oppose construction of a 275,000 square-foot hotel in Sun Peak have made their views known as the Summit County Commission prepares to make a decision Wednesday on the controversial development application.

A developer from the Chicago area claims a hotel has been slated on the site for more than a decade. But opponents were expecting a 140,000 square-foot structure with 140 rooms.

The hotel builder, James Haft, claims plans for the Sun Canyon Lodge haven’t changed since the Summit County Commission granted the project a preliminary approval in 2001.

Residents were wrong to assume the size of the hotel would be 140,000 square feet, Haft said, adding that the Sun Peak Homeowners Association’s own design review committee approved the 275,000-square-foot preliminary plans four years ago. "Those preliminary plans show, among other things, a whole slew of two-bedroom units, and they show a 275,000-square-foot project," he said. Recent affidavits from former County Commissioners Patrick Cone, Shauna Kerr and Eric Schifferli, who granted the project’s preliminary approval, hint that 140 bedrooms was the limit of their intent.

Haft is already marketing six-bedroom condominiums for sale in the hotel. The Summit County Commission is scheduled to make a decision on the size of the hotel at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville.

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