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Northlands group discusses pay options for sewer line

Staff reports
WALSENBURG — Fifteen people representing residents and businesses in the Northlands area of Walsenburg met last Wednesday to discuss options for paying for the proposed six million dollar sewer line they voted to approve last November. Grants are expected to pay for about half of the proposed cost of the project.
The project will fulfill the requirements of the Ackerman Decree which forces the City of Walsenburg to send two gallons downstream in the Cucharas River for every gallon used north of the hogback.
The project would also eliminate the smelly sewer holding ponds and would allow for further development in the area.
This was a preliminary meeting among some of those involved to get ideas for the best way to fund the project and make it as fair to small landowners and residents as it is for current businesses and larger land owners in that part of Walsenburg.
If the USDA comes through with a 45% grant/55% loan to go along with the $700,000 in grants from the Department of Local Affairs and Office of Economic Development, the annual payment for the project should be around $125,000 per year. That’s approximately the amount of money generated currently through sales tax revenue from the Northlands area each year. The city uses that money for the general fund, capital improvement fund, and street paving fund in all areas of Walsenburg.
Dave Johnston, Finance Director for the City of Walsenburg, proposed a public improvement fee (PIF) that would mostly be paid by tourists and others traveling north and south along I-25. The group felt a one cent fee added to products or services from Northland businesses only would raise about $40,000 per year. Some business people were willing to go a bit higher but others balked.
A small increase in the mill levy could net another $40,000 a year in property taxes. To round out the annual cost of the loan not covered by grants, the group would like the city to consider budgeting some of the capital improvement funds that the Northland area creates on its own each year to cover the other $45,000.
The business owners present were very aware of the need to protect residents living on fixed in-comes in that area while also protecting their bottom lines as the area grows in the future.
No decisions were made and the group expects to have other meetings in the near future to look at additional ideas. Johnston will put some of the proposed ideas together and report back at the next round of meetings.
When a proposal is made, it will have to go to the General Improvement District board (made up of the city council and 3 members in the Northland area) for approval and then be voted on by the city council.
The monies to pay for the sewer line need to come only from those in the Northland area of Walsenburg as agreed to in the annexation agreement. There are businesses interested in locating in that area that will provide jobs and increased sales tax revenue but they need a sewer line. If more business or industry is established in the Northland area, the cost of the project will be shared by more people, lowering the cost to everyone involved north of the hogback.