Ranchos family caught in middle of political fight | RecordCourier.com
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Ranchos family caught in middle of political fight

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

A Ranchos family of five has been living in a two-bedroom home since October with three dogs, three birds, a cat and some chickens and are saying enough is enough.

The Walkers want to move into their new home in Dresslerville, but are not allowed as long as the Washoe Tribe and the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District continue to argue over sewer fees.

Melody and Waldo Walker and their two daughters, Rachel, 12, and Rebecca, 10, are stuck in the middle and have been living with Melody’s mom, Kathleen Hadley, in her two-bedroom Ranchos home. It’s getting a little crowded, to say the least.

The Walkers have a new modular home that was placed on Washoe Tribal land in Dresslerville in October. By the end of the month, they had been told there was no way their house would be connected to sewer lines maintained by GRGID until the Tribe pays out-of-district fees. According to GRGID, the Tribe has a debt of almost $27,000 in out-of-district fees it has refused to pay since the fees increased in October 1999. In-district customers pay $11 or $19 per month depending on when they were connected. That is the rate the Tribe was asked to pay before October 1999. They continue to pay that amount.

Melody Walker said they are not the type of people to pick a fight, but feel they have no choice now and are even considering legal action if they are kept out of their home much longer.

Hadley said the Walkers are all sharing a bedroom.

“This house was never meant to hold this many people,” Hadley said. “There is no privacy with everybody on top of each other. It’s very difficult on the girls, at their age. Their escape is to go into the back yard.”

Melody Walker said her family is disappointed in the trustees.

“I just don’t understand. All it would take is a ‘Yes,’ from the trustees. The board just won’t budge. They’ve forgotten the individual. When you vote for someone, you think you’re voting for someone that is going to go to bat for you when the chips are down. They turned this into a business transaction and that concerns me,” Melody Walker said.

“Well, I think we care as much for them as their Tribal commission cares for them,” said GRGID Chairman Roger Paul. “The ball is in the court of the Tribe. The district is kind of caught in the middle, too. We are trying to be as reasonable with these folks as with any other customer in our service area.”

GRGID Manager Bob Spellberg said the district decided to treat the Tribe like its other out-of-district customers.

The Tribe has also refused to sign a new contract with the district. The previous memorandum of understanding expired in July. The Tribe’s position is that as a sovereign nation, it cannot legally be a part of the Ranchos, but are still forced to pay out-of-district fees.

GID officials say the fees were necessarily raised when costs increased. The contract states the district can raise fees if they give proper notice.

Washoe Tribe attorney Tim Seward said the GRGID did not comply with the Tribe’s notification procedures.

“In January 2000, I wrote to GRGID and indicated pursuant to the memorandum of understanding, GRGID had to comply with certain notification procedures for the Tribe, which are above and beyond other notification procedures under state law. Because they hadn’t been complied with, we were still operating under the previous rate,” Seward said. “The tribe’s concern is the Tribe comprises 93 percent of GRGID’s out-of-district users, so the Tribe is being charged a significant amount more. We’re aware of no justification for such a significantly higher user fee rate for the Dresslerville community.”

However, Seward said he has been involved in negotiations with Spellberg and the GRGID’s attorney Mike Rowe and hopes for a settlement soon.

“I think those meetings have been positive and I am hopeful that we’re moving toward a relatively quick resolution to the underlying situation – to getting a new agreement that has a justifiable rate the Tribe would be agreeable to,” Seward said.

– Board’s position. GRGID board Chairman Paul said the board is aware of the Walkers’ situation, but cannot bend on this issue. Members previously voted unanimously not to hook the Walker’s home to the sewer system while the contract has not been signed and the Tribe refuses to pay fees.

“The board felt that until the Tribe would renew its contract and comply with the new rate schedule, it would be prudent for the district to not permit any additional service at this time,” Paul said.

The board did not take any action on the issue Wednesday. They ordered staff to bring them another update at February’s meeting.

Seward said next week he will be providing a counter proposal based on an engineering study of other sewer district fees.

“The Tribe has requested they allow two individual homes located in Dresslerville to hook up during these negotiations and we’re hopeful with the submission of a counter proposal they will allow those two homes to hook up while this is being finalized,” Seward said.

“We have tried to avoid all this. We feel our back is up against the wall. We have nowhere to turn,” Melody Walker said. “We’ve gotten dragged into a whole political mess. It’s a huge issue to us.”