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Cucharas District works on budget, other area issues

by Carol Dunn
CUCHARA — At its October 11 meeting, the board of the Cucharas Sanitation and Water District accepted a draft budget to be worked on, presented at a public hearing in October, then finalized in December. As part of the discussion, Chairman Art Pierce asked a question about the District’s bonds and loans: “Can we retire one this year and one the next year?” Pierce pointed out, “Our money in the bank is making point-one percent, and on some of our loans, we’re paying two to three percent.” According to Sandy Hackbarth, who helped assemble the draft budget, CSWD actually has some water revenue bonds on which they are paying 4.7%.
Ex-board member Cal Sandbeck was in the audience and provided input on how well the district compensates its employees, including salary, family insurance coverage and 13.7% contribution to the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association. Sandbeck asked if the board has looked at insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Director Jim Howard replied, “Prices are guaranteed through August, 2014, but not after that. Nobody seems to have an idea of what the costs might be.”
Sandbeck also asked for a commitment by the district to replace the sewer line to his property at the Dog Bar. “For six years we’ve been talking about this,” Sandbeck said. The eight-inch line would also service the Bear’s Den, River’s Edge and the real estate office. General Manager Bob Northup estimated the job would involve 800 to 900 feet, so it would need to be bid out. On timing, Sandbeck said, “Maybe next fall, if you could be lined up and ready to go, that would work.” Sandbeck advised waiting until after Oktoberfest and some of the hunting traffic dies down, and thought November 1-15 would be ideal.
Sandbeck’s third inquiry involved the temporary five-year augmentation plan for the illegal ponds in the valley. “We’re in the third year now. Has anything been done?” he asked. To be filed as a permanent plan in water court, there needs to be a permanent source of replacement water for that lost to evaporation from the ponds. “I think it’s a pretty serious thing,” Sandbeck said. Northup replied, “We’re trying to figure out a water right we can earmark for the ponds that we won’t need in the future.”
Sandbeck said the pond owners suggested purchasing some EQRs from Ted Zorich and removing them from the system, thus providing the replacement water. “The pond owners know they have to buck up,” he said. But Northup pointed out that the conversion of EQRs to acre-feet and the added restriction on consumptive use would require the purchase of 1,000 to 1,200 EQRs. “You’re looking at a quarter-million dollars,” Northup said, “and that’s what they were appraised at a couple years ago.”
Northup also said he hopes the state will ultimately reduce the amount of replacement water it is requiring. “We need to get the evaporative rate knocked down, hopefully by a quarter.” Chairman Pierce finally asked Sandbeck if he would form a committee to meet periodically and keep the process moving forward to find a permanent source of augmentation water.
The district went on record in unanimous support of the La Veta Fire Protection District. Director Howard said, “We do endorse the fire department.” Pierce added, “We offer our thanks and support to the La Veta Fire Protection District.”
With advice from Northup and director Jim VanLue and input from Marshall Moore, the district decided to trade in its excavator and 710 backhoe on the purchase of a CAT 420 mid-light backhoe, which is used but comes with a warranty. The board also decided to sell its ’07 skidloader to a private party with the caveat that it would stay local and be available for up to two years for day rental by the district at $40 per hour. By district policy, this will be advertised and bids will be taken for two weeks.
Pierce reported that the district had been invited by Huerfano County Water Conservancy District (HCWCD) to be a co-sponsor on a pre-fire watershed assessment project for the Cuchara valley. The proposed project would be partially funded by the co-sponsors and matched by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Watershed Restoration Program. “We have a distinct possibility of fire,” Pierce said. Referring to last year’s fire west of Colorado Springs, he said, “I think we’ve seen from the news it can be devastating. We need to do some things to protect our water supply.”
CSWD committed $5,000 cash and 10-15 hours of in-kind labor by Northup in 2014 for project phases one and two. In addition to HCWCD, the other project co-sponsors are the Huerfano County Commissioners, La Veta Fire Protection District, Huerfano County Fire Protection District, City of Walsenburg, the Town of La Veta, and possibly the Upper Huerfano Fire Protection District.
Northup reported that the Britton Reservoir project is finished and awaiting a snow forecast so the area can be seeded. “The Cuchara plant has been put to bed for the winter,” Northup said. He reported that the district passed its State Health Department review of the sanitary sewer, but one tank needs to be sandblasted and refurbished. Northup had to leave the meeting for a short time to address an electrical problem at the Pikes Peak water plant. “Some things work and some things don’t,” he said. “Right now, the water plant is down.”
By resolution, the district certified its delinquent water/sewer accounts – those that are at least six months past due – and forwarded the amounts to the county treasurer to collect by adding them to the property owner’s tax bill. All of the delinquent accounts, totaling $32,145.56, are owned by CVRF (Cuchara Valley Recreational Foundation), managed by Bruce Cantrell.