Monticello Council discusses noise ordinance, utility bills

The Monticello City Council discussed updating their noise ordinance, a policy for adjusting utility bills, and other items as part of their August 24 meeting.

At the meeting, the council heard a presentation from City Attorney Alex Goble about the current noise ordinance for Monticello. The council decided to revisit the ordinance, originally established in the 1970s, in an upcoming work meeting after some lengthy discussion and impassioned input from the public.

The item came to the council’s attention in connection to a specific incident this summer. Monticello resident Ammon Boswell voiced his complaint to the council against Sonderegger, Inc. for pouring concrete early in the morning on a residential property near Boswell’s house this past summer.

Boswell told the council he had been woken up several times by early morning activity before or around 6 a.m. He also said his communications with the company were unproductive, as the work continued even though he shared that the official town noise ordinance does not allow for certain noise levels from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Boswell lodged complaints with the city, and city officials communicated with the two parties. But as the city noise ordinance is currently written, there is no clear way to enforce the code via fine or penalization.

Boswell said while he understood it was more convenient to pour in the cooler hours of the day, he said it isn’t necessary to do so.

“There was a level of disrespect there not only to me as a person, not only as a neighbor, but to the city that they willfully did, after being notified that it was illegal to stop. That they willfully did that again,” said Boswell. “When you do look at the code, do you want to reward them? [Are you] going to roll over like the way they expect you to and give them the time and ability to do this?”

At the meeting, Paul Sonderegger, president of Sonderegger Inc., says the incident was the first time he’s had an issue with an early morning start. He explained the incident led him to look at the ordinance and ask the council to revisit it.

The current noise ordinance doesn’t allow for any use of construction equipment in residential areas between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Those limited hours are an issue for his business, with work often starting before 6 a.m.

“When it started looking like it was going to be something that would be a problem for my business and my employees and their families, that’s when I decided I was going to challenge [the current noise ordinance],” said Sonderegger.

Fellow contractors at the meeting also expressed their desire to allow construction work to occur in residential zones during the early hours of the day.

David Gillette asked the council not to implement an ordinance, but if they do, to allow contractors a 6 a.m. start time. Gillette said contractors will usually start at more reasonable hours, but making allowance for an earlier start would give them the option if needed.

“Set the bar low, and if contractors are abusing it, revisit it,” said Gillette.

Fritz Pipkin also added that early morning cement pouring is necessary during the relatively dry month of June in order to allow the cement to settle ahead of potential monsoonal rains.

At the meeting, Goble recommended the code be revisited, saying that applying decibel standards and using permitting to enforce the code could help solve a lot of issues.

“Don’t do anything too draconian when you go into this,” said Goble. “A lot can be solved with definition updates. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

While enforcement may be possible through permitting of projects, Goble said enforcement via law enforcement or a code enforcer would likely be cost-prohibitive for the city.

The council agreed to put the item on a work session agenda in order to revisit the noise ordinance in the coming weeks.

As part of the August 24 meeting, the council also discussed a policy update regarding adjustments made to utility bills, in response to another incident earlier this summer.

The San Juan School district received a $26,000 bill for the secondary water in June. The city reports the bill was high in part because of a malfunctioning irrigation clock at Monticello Elementary School.

The water used was high above the average usage for the same month dating back to at least 2010. The district was credited $20,500 on their account which sparked some criticism against the city.

At the meeting, City Manager Evan Bolt explained that when businesses or residents receive unusually high utility bills Monticello city office may contact individuals to discuss the bill, or more often account holders may come to talk to the city about those bills.

In cases where damaged equipment is the cause of a higher bill, the city will issue a credit for account holders. The council is revisiting the policy to provide a form and make sure it is administered fairly and evenly under public works director Nathan Langston.

Bolt explained why this practice is in place. “Say you have someone living on a fixed income or just a resident that has a bill five times the amount that it usually is,” said Bolt. “...Now they have to make the sacrifice.

“Do I pay this bill, or do I fix the problem? If I fix the problem and I don’t have that credit, am I going to go into foreclosure because this is three months’ worth of mortgage? 

“Well that kind of applies to the school district as well. I mean, $25,000 is a huge chunk of change to the school district.”

The school district reportedly fixed the issue. While the bill could have had significant implications for the district, Bolt says it’s a part of being a good neighbor.

“We’re not here to put people in financial ruin,” said Bolt. “This is usually a one-time lesson. It’s an expectation that if they are a repeat offender again, you’re paying that bill in full.”

Mayor Tim Young says the policy is needed to avoid the appearance that Monticello Public Works Director Nathan Langston is being pressured into giving account holders breaks or doing favors for some residents.

“We’re just trying to be reasonable but from the outside, it does look really bad when somebody says, ‘Hey Nate singlehandedly erased $25,000 worth of money that somebody owed,’” said Young. “That’s not fair to Nate.

“To have someone look from the outside and see he was responsible for that, even for us that’s kind of a reasonable thing to do, we’re trying to figure it out.”

Goble said that adopting a policy and procedure for utility adjustment should protect the city and its employees. 

“As long as the policies and procedures outline who you’ve designated to have that authority, and if the city council wants to keep that authority then all he has to do is collect the info and say they’re asking for it,” said Goble. “If you want, he can have it as long as [the city manager] signs off on it too.

“Whatever that policy and procedure is, as long as you adopt it, it protects your city employees.”

The council reviewed a form that Langston presented and would possibly include payment of 150 precent of the account users’ monthly average. The council seemed in favor of the policy but did not take a vote at the August 24 meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council heard that the speed limit sign on the north end of town needs to be fixed. Staff also reported the city is getting closer to replacing the broken welcome sign on the north end of town.

Additionally, a broken part at the city pool required the facility to close for the season on July 23. The pool should receive the part in time to open next year. The city is offering prorated returns to those who purchased season passes. 

Councilmember Bayley Hedglin reports that the city has identified grant funding to help make some ADA-compliant playground areas in town, as talked about in a previous council meeting.

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