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Citizens help city staff address rate issues

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Interest in Walsenburg civic affairs was evident at Tuesday night’s city council meeting where nearly 50 residents crowded into council chambers to observe and comment on city business.
Within the large audience were residents who have been working behind the scenes with city staff to improve conditions in Walsenburg. The result of one of those actions was the introduction of Ordinance 1015, which calls for a ballot issue to be placed before city voters on the November 6 general election ballot.
The ordinance, which was only proposed to city administration last Friday, calls for a question to voters to allow the city to earmark 2/3rds of the one percent sales tax revenues for capital improvements for water/sewer infrastructure repairs and replacement. If approved, the funds generated by the percentage of the sales tax revenues would be transferred to the water/sewer enterprise fund. It is estimated the plan could put up to $200,000 into fixing the aging pipelines within the city. The ordinance, which was the brainchild of citizens Jacque Sikes, Maurice Brau, and Fred Eccher, could lower the proposed increases in water rates city staff and elected officials are expected to finalize in the next two months. Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar made the motion to approve the ordinance on first reading and the issue passed 8-0.
The topic of water/sewer rate increase will be discussed at the city council utility/finance committee meetings set for mid-September.
City council sitting as the Northlands General Improvement District Board of Directors, also had citizen help as George Birrer and other members of the GID-Northlands citizen advisory group reported on a petition drive to allow Huajatolla Hills property owners to voluntarily remove themselves from the Northlands sewer project. This action could eliminate the need for a ballot question to GID residents similar to the one passed last year.
Birrer said 16 of the 19 petitions were returned and the three outstanding ones are in the mail to Huajatolla Hills property owners. This will not affect the sewer line construction in the Hills, as the cost for the low to medium income residents will be paid for by the $700,000 DOLA/OEDIT grant.
The measure in the form of Ordinance 1014, unanimously passed when introduced later in the evening in the regular session of city council.
Citizen involvement was also demonstrated as a fairly new resident to the city, Carol Roesch, was appointed to the office of city treasurer. Roesch was the only person who had submitted a letter of interest for the position. Her appointment was approved on an 8-0 vote. She told the council she had decades of business managerial experience and she met all the qualifications for the position.
In other business the city passed on second reading Ordinance 1013, which places a ballot question before voters to allow for the positions of city clerk and city treasurer to be appointed, not elected seats.
Also passing on second reading was Ordinance 1012, which places a mill levy ballot question before voters in November. This item, similar to one defeated by voters in 2011, would allow the city to increase the mill levy from 11.75 to 18.54 mills which would generate nearly $178,000 per year for the general fund, the same rate the city had in place in the mid-1990s. With the mill levy refund that is currently in place, the city is operating on about 9 mills.
Council approved a water sale contract with Shell Oil, calls for the exploration company to purchase up to 3 acre feet of treated water from the city for $21 per 1,000 gallons for construction purposes. Shell will have to post a non-refundable 50 percent deposit for the purchase, $10,264; and the water must be drawn and used by Dec. 31, 2012.
The agreement passed on a 7-1 vote with councilman James Baca voting no. Resolution 2012 R, which sets an oil, gas and mineral bulk volume water (sale) rate was passed 8-0.