Burns, Wyo., Considers Disbanding Town Utility Board over Sewer Backup

August 31, 2006

The town of Burns, Wyo., is considering disbanding its Board of Public Utilities over a dispute over a sewage backup that flooded a family’s basement.

The Burns Town Council voted 3-2 on Aug. 17 to draft an ordinance to repeal the board, which town officials created about 15 years ago. The council may consider whether to proceed with the process of adopting the ordinance next month.

At the center of debate is the question of who should pay Derrold and Charlene Smith to reimburse them some $3,600 for damages their house suffered when a blocked town sewer line resulted in their basement flooding with sewage this February.

Soon after the flooding, utilities board president Jim Clark told the Smiths that the board would pay to cover damages because the flooding because the town was at fault. He said the flooding had been caused by tree roots in the town sewer system.

The Smith’s insurance company won’t pay for the damage because it maintains the town is responsible. The Local Government Liability Pool, the town’s insurer, has also refused to pay, saying the town isn’t responsible under state law.

Charlene Smith said at a recent city council meeting that she and her family don’t want to sue the town.

“We’re just asking for you to do the right thing,” Smith said. “Half of our house is gone. We just want what’s due us.”

Councilman Vernon Testerman Jr. said it would be wrong for the town council to disband the utilities board.

“It’s a power struggle,” Testerman said. “Less than two years ago, two members of this board agreed we need to keep the utilities board, and now they don’t like how they are handling things so they want to repeal it. It’s wrong to shut it down, and it’s crooked as a dog’s hind leg to repeal it.”

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