Council reinstates water committee, mulls water deposit refunds

‘Someone who’s a homeowner and pays their bill should get their money back. That money does not belong to the town.’
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CAVE CREEK – With councilmen Jim Bruce and Thomas McGuire absent and Councilman Steve LaMar needing to leave early, Mayor Vincent Francia moved agenda item number four, ratification of the appeal of attorneys’ fees in the case of Freeman v. Esser, town of Cave Creek, so council would retain a quorum while Councilman Dick Esser recused himself.

Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek said briefs were due May 3 so there was no time to bring the reconsideration of attorneys’ fees to council before the filing deadline.

During public comment, Adam Trenk questioned why the town was paying to appeal attorneys’ fees against Esser and asserted it was Esser’s sole responsibility.

Dyrek said the award of attorneys’ fees was against the town only.

Trenk read a section of the document signed by Esser that said it would hold the town harmless and said, “I have a problem with the town appealing an award of fees against Councilman Esser.”

Town Attorney Jim Rigberg said the award was against the town and explained the amount spent to appeal the award, if overturned, would save the town more money than it would spend to appeal. And if there was an issue regarding holding the town harmless that would be addressed afterward.

Kerry Smith said he was more confused by Trenk’s questions and asked if the legal briefs shouldn’t be available for citizens to review.

While he was not the attorney who handled the case for the town, Rigberg explained the legal documents were all available through Maricopa County Superior Court.

Council voted unanimously to ratify the appeal.

Esser then returned to the dais as LaMar left.

Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance to reintroduce the water advisory committee.

ralph moziloUtilities Manager Jessica Marlow said several of the recommendations submitted by Ralph Mozilo (r) were incorporated, including making the committee five to seven members to afford some flexibility with minimum of one representative from each municipality (Cave Creek, Desert Hills and Carefree) but use the skill set of the members as a priority over where they live, allow non-water customers with qualifications to serve despite having their own well.

Bill Allen said, “I would echo exactly what Ralph Mozilo said,” adding he would like to serve on the committee but is on a well.

Barbara Middleton, a Desert Hills water customer who was a proponent of reestablishing the committee, said she read through the ordinance and was quite pleased.

Charlie Spitzer said it was a much welcome change and suggested making the committee permanent.

Councilwoman Shelley Anderson moved to pass the ordinance with Esser seconding the motion.
Anderson said, “I never wanted this to go away.”

Esser said he agreed with both Anderson and Spitzer.

Before voting unanimously to pass the first reading, Marlow assuaged Francia’s concerns and read the section of the ordinance that said council would select the committee members, not Carefree for its member, as was suggested by Carefree Mayor David Schwan.

Francia said one wouldn’t know that from reading Saturday’s article in a Scottsdale newspaper.

Next Marlow brought forward an ordinance addressing water utility security deposits, which she said are currently retained until the customer terminates their account.

According to Marlow, prior to adopting the new water rates in 2009, the town retained deposits for one year.

Marlow proposed instead of refunding, crediting the deposit to the customer’s account.

She said there is currently approximately $265,000 in deposits, with an estimated $180,000 eligible for return.

She also suggested the town retain deposits for renters, whom she said have been the most notorious for skipping out on their bill.

Town Attorney Jim Rigberg said he wasn’t sure if that could be done legally but would look into it before the second reading.

After looking into what other municipalities have done with deposits, Marlow said some didn’t charge deposits to homeowners, only to renters.

During public comment, Adam Trenk said, “I applauded Councilman Thomas McGuire for wanting to put money back in people’s pockets but, this is fiscally irresponsible” and said he opposed refunding deposits to customers.

Mozilo said, “Someone who’s a homeowner and pays their bill should get their money back. That money does not belong to the town. I hope it’s not mingled.”

Marlow said she didn’t know but didn’t believe it was included in the utility revenue and could find out from Finance Director Robert Weddigen.

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch moved to approve the first reading and said he liked the concept on renters.

Francia said he supported the first reading but wanted to know how much money they were talking about when it comes back for the second reading.

The motion passed unanimously.

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