The Helper council reaffirmed its position last week regarding water the city purchased from the Price River Water Improvement District a few years ago.
At a public meeting on Sept. 7, the Helper council addressed the matter at length, but maintained that it will not pay the $18,000 which PRWID claims the city owes.
Mayor Mike Dalpiaz told the council that the city had received a letter from the district requesting that the city make a decision on the matter within 30 days.
The mayor questioned what the district would do without an acceptable response from the city.
"What are they going to do after 30 days?" asked Dalpiaz. "Are they going to blow our water tank off the hill?"
The mayor said he did not believe the city should pay the amount and officials should stand firm in Helper's current position.
"I firmly agree that we don't owe this," said Councilmember Chuck Buchanan.
The original purchase occurred between April 2004 and June 2005, when Helper was unable to supply water to residents while it replaced a portion of its main water conveyance line.
At that time, Helper purchased water from the district.
As each invoice from PRWID came to the city, each was paid. However, these invoices may have been billed at an incorrect rate. And since the discovery of that error, Helper and PRWID officials have negotiated that figure down to $18,000, where it stood at the end of the most recent negotiations.
The outcome of those negotiations resulted in a proposal which was presented to the city council. In the proposal, the city would agree to turn over water shares valued at $18,000.
The matter was discussed in December 2005, but deferred to the incoming administration.
When Dalpiaz took office at the start of the year, he opposed the proposal. As a result, no proposal from the district has been accepted and approved by the city council.
Recorder Jona Skerl confirmed that Helper has yet to receive an invoice from the district so, as far as accounting principles are concerned, the city has no record of a balance owed.
"We paid our bills as per the invoice received," pointed out Buchanan. He said that the bills were paid, and if there were errors, they were because the district didn't bill them correctly.
The only documentation regarding the amount owed has been in the form of letters been in the form of letters exchanged between the district and the city.
One of the concerns raised by councilmembers is that the price for the emergency water was raised after the fact.
With no contract in place at the time of purchase, the billing question goes back to a resolution passed by the water improvement district board sometime prior to the purchase.
Councilmember Bob Farrell pointed out that the district's change in price would be like him going after a previous customer at his car dealership because he felt he hadn't charged enough for the vehicle in the first place.
Despite the sticker price, customers can negotiate down to a lower amount, noted Farrell. And those prices are reflected on the invoice.
"We paid for every gallon we used," said Buchanan. He added that as far as he is concerned, the bills have been paid.
"I think everything was fine until [PRWID] had litigation with Wellington," commented Farrell. "I don't think we should be a scapegoat."
Other members of the Helper City Council suggested that the changed rates seemed to arise out of an issue involving back payments owed to PRWID by Wellington.
However, whether that is the case played little importance for city officials in deciding whether Helper should pay the bill from the water improvement district.
What does play into the debate is the fact the Helper was billed on an ongoing basis at a certain rate, pointed out Councilmember John Jones.
The initial invoices from PRWID for the water were paid by the city and Helper was not shown to be delinquent until after the fact.
However, the council was not completely united in ignoring the city's debt claimed by the water improvement district.
Councilmember Dean Armstrong suggested that the city may want to continue negotiations.
"We may need PRWID in the future," pointed out Armstrong.
As far as the legal ramifications involved in the matter, Helper City Attorney Gene Strate indicated that courts have gone both ways on the issue.
The outcome would not be entirely clear going into any litigation, should the matter ever reach that point, advised the city attorney.
Since Helper officials have never agreed that the city owed the $18,000 in question to the water improvement district, there is no agreement or contract in place that specifies the city needs to pay the amount.
Helper maintains that the city is still in the process of negotiating with the water improvement district to resolve the matter and the negotiations should continue.
The councilmembers agreed that Helper would continue negotiations with the water improvement district until the matter is resolved. But the city would not pay the amount claimed by PRWID at the present time.