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City discusses water/sewer base plus usage rate plan

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Walsenburg City Council and staff discussed a number of issues that will have near and future impacts on residents at their Tuesday night meeting, but only had a handful of action items on their agenda.
With all members present except James Baca, the council unanimously passed two contracts with Colorado Interstate Gas for storage and pipeline transportation, approved a pair of liquor license renewals and approved a Mutual Aid agreement concerning disaster response with surrounding communities and the county.
A carry-over discussion from Monday night’s city utility committee meeting was the main issue during the council’s pre-meeting work session.
City Finance Director David Johnston fielded questions from council members concerning a potential change to water/sewer costs to residents, if the city were to adopt a base rate plus usage formula. Under a base rate formula, residential and commercial users would see their costs tied directly to the amount of water used as opposed to the current flat rate.
While this issue is in a very preliminary discussion stage at this point, such a change would mean a more equitable cost for low water consumers. If the city adopts such a plan, the base rate would likely be changed slightly upward to ensure the water/sewer plant debt would be covered and a specific portion of the base rate would be earmarked for a water/sewer repair contingency fund.
One option would see residents’ usage prices based on the average usage measured in a December, January, February timeframe. Johnston explained the choice of those months for the measurement saying water used during that period is nearly exclusively water that will return to the city’s system for treatment. Water used, for example, in the summer on residents’ lawns is water that will soak into the ground and not be returning to the system for treatment.
The utility committee will continue this discussion at their regular meeting in April.
During the administrator’s report, Beth Neece said she had received information from Burlington Northern / Santa Fe Railroad indicating they would be replacing the tracks at the Walsenburg Main Street crossing in the near future. She said the necessary track replacement is a reason that passing trains have passed through the city much slower than usual recently.
An exact date for the project, which will close the busy crossing for multiple days, has not been announced. Neece said the railroad will be building the track segment adjacent to the crossing and when that has begun officials will know the closing will be ‘just days away’. It is expected traffic detours will be in place on Third and Hendren Streets.
Walsenburg Police Chief James Chamberlain attended the council meeting and the police statistical report for February was included in council member’s agendas.
Chamberlain was asked why drug offenses appear down. He said there hasn’t been any known drop in illegal drug use or possession, but the lower numbers are a direct reflection of Officer Buddy Townes leaving the police department earlier this year. Townes was an aggressive drug interdiction officer within the department.
Chamberlain said additional officers will be taking drug interdiction training in the near future.
Chamberlain also reported a representative from the police department will be attending a local emergency responders meeting hosted by Royal Dutch Shell where discussions will center on potential public safety issues connected with any future operations of the oil company in Huerfano County.
Chamberlain also briefed city council on some new scams that are being reported.
He said one is the American Opportunity Tax Credit Scam where con men are targeting senior citizens, low income persons and church groups. He said no such tax credit exists and people should be aware of this tax season scam. A New Medical Card scam has been reported in Colorado. Texas and New Mexico where thieves are seeking credit card and checking account information from potential victims.