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Effort made to stave off possible Spring sewer rate increase

 WALSENBURG — While a Spring 2015 sewer rate increase isn’t yet written in stone, the annual survey of sewer rates will be done next month, but an amendment to a resolution passed Tuesday night by the Walsenburg City Council, might at least, lower the impact to rate payers. Walsenburg Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar offered the amendment to Resolution 2015-R-04, that would double the time set for the pay back of a $270,000 loan from the city’s Capital Improvement Fund to the city’s Sewer Fund from three to six years. The resolution says the sewer fund requires additional operating capital and the loan to the sewer fund will not adversely affect the operation of the gas fund. Administration indicated after the loan is completed there will still be an estimated $500,000 in the Capital Improvement Fund. The funds are necessary for the sewer lagoon project. Lessar’s amendment to the resolution passed unanimously 7-0 as did passage of the resolution itself. The move was done in the hope the longer pay back schedule would help decrease any rise in sewer fees following the March survey. The city council avoided one deadline Tuesday night when it voted 7-0 to accept the $98,000 contract with RJH Consultants for Phase II work on the City Lake Dam project. Mike Graber of the firm said the second phase of the state mandated project will be done by the April 30, 2015 deadline. Administration said the cost of the Phase II work is about the same amount of money the city could lose if the state ordered the drop in water levels at City Lake. Payment for the work will come from the City Water Fund. With completion of the second phase of the project, the city will have concise information regarding what kind of grants and / or loans it may need for full state compliance on the dam. Graber said he would be happy to accompany city officials to meetings with the Arkansas River Basin Roundtable, a potential funding source for any of the four major water project areas the city is seeking funding for. In another deadline issue, Walsenburg may have to hold a special election to fill the empty Ward 2 council seat vacated by Cathy Pineda at the end of 2014. Mayor Jim Eccher and administration report no one has come forward from Ward 2 seeking an appointment to the council seat until the next election. It is estimated by city administration, the cost of a special election could be between $7,000 and $10,000. Noting the complex nature of the interim loan agreement for the Northlands Project and unanticipated additional time involved in preparing the documents, the city’s bond counsel, Spencer Fane, Britt & Browne, requested an additional $16,000 on top of contracted $13,500 cost of legal fees. The additional funds were allocated by the city council and it was noted the money will be paid via the interim loan and will not come out of city coffers. The city council also passed Ordinance 1055 on first reading Tuesday night. The ordinance eliminates a 1,000 foot restriction of a medical marijuana dispensary from a prison facility. Glen Garcia who has purchased the former modular home factory site appeared at the council meeting and said the removal of the distance restriction would make the property more attractive to potential buyers who may be interested in the marijuana cultivation business. That item was not the only discussion regarding the marijuana industry at the city council meeting. Barbara Johnson and Jim Hillaker of Urban Smoken, made a presentation to city council showing how many potential recreational marijuana buyers come to their shop on a daily basis and how much money in potential municipal taxes could be raised if they were in the retail marijuana business. Johnson presented a time line of what the business has accomplished from the time they set out to build a medical marijuana dispensary to the present, saying all the land issues have been settled and now they are at the point to apply for their state license. They requested the city reconsider its position on retail (recreational) marijuana sales within the city limits. Currently the city has an ordinance banning recreational marijuana outlets. But, in the tough economic times facing the municipality, and the fact a number of marijuana grow operations have shown interest in the greater Huerfano County region, including Martra Holdings, currently working with the City of Walsenburg on a land purchase at the City Ranch for development of marijuana growing ‘suites’, the city’s ‘no recreational pot’ position seems to have turned. Council members indicated they would consider a new ordinance that would allow recreational marijuana sales. A draft ordinance to that effect could be ready for discussion by the next council meeting. In other business the city council voted 7-0 to enter into an agreement that would bring recycling back to the transfer station site. The exact time the recycling bins will be in place has not been announced. Administration said any expenses would be offset by revenues raised by recycling material and there would be no cost to the city. Recycling of specific items would be free to the public. The agreement approved Tuesday night is with Southeast & East Central Recycling Association naming the city as the Local Authority.