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Retroactive utility billing halted; adjustments due

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A legal opinion by city attorney Dan Hyatt has stopped the City of Walsenburg from retroactive utility billing of water and sewer rates that reflect the recent increase passed last month by the city council.
Utility customers will see an adjustment in their coming bills to reflect the corrected billing cycle. While the new rates were applied to December bills from the November to December billing cycle, Hyatt found the practice incorrect. The increase will be reflected in the base increase and usage from the December to January billing cycle and will appear on customers’ bills in February 2013.
The city council Tuesday night also approved with an 8-0 vote, a resolution that will slightly lower costs in the water and sewer bills in the area of infrastructure repair and replacement. Customers will see a $4 reduction in both water and sewer infrastructure repair and replacement portion of their bills for a total reduction of $8 per month. The funding that allows for the reduction came from the voter approved measure in November allowing the city to use a portion of tax monies earmarked for water and sewer repair and replacement to slightly offset the increase approved in Ordinance 1016, passed on first reading on November 20, 2012.
While appreciative of both adjustments, a contingent of approximately 30 citizen ratepayers attended the Tuesday night session with continued complaints and questions regarding the increase.
Chris Daniels presented the mayor and city council with a petition containing hundreds of names who support a return to the previous water and sewer costs. Former city council member and city treasurer Jacque Sikes also spoke to the council. Armed with a self-prepared spreadsheet, Sikes ran off a list of city fund amounts, utility cost comparisons and other dollar figures with her main question to city leaders being, “is this what you meant to do?” Sikes gave a copy of the spreadsheet to city administrator David Johnston, who said he would study the document and have answers for her at the next council meeting.
Mayor Larry Patrick, the city council, and administration took approximately 30 minutes to answer and discuss the ‘charges’ brought forward in the Daniels’ petition. Officials discussed items as diverse as ‘why the mayor is delivering newspapers (his actual job) instead of fixing city problems’ to police overtime and efficiency of city workers.
In other business, the city presented Dr. Neece and the Neece family with a plaque that will hang in city hall honoring the late Beth Neece and recognizing her in an honorary manner as the city’s first female administrator.
With a tight fiscal year ahead, the city council also approved the cancellation of the agreement with the Southeast and East Central Recycling Association. The resolution said, in part, ‘the city council has determined that insufficient funds exist in the general fund of the city of Walsenburg to meet its obligations pursuant to the Agreement’.
Council passed a liquor license renewal for Rosa’s Cantina; and approved a donation of $300 to the Peakview Arts Program, a volunteer effort by Dianne Hanisch and Mary Ann Pedraza, both retired educators, to continue some arts programs in the local schools.