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Ski area bubbles to the top Cantrell owes $46K in delinquent water/sewer bills

by Carol Dunn
CUCHARA — At its September 14 meeting, the Cucharas Sanitation & Water District Board of Directors discussed the ramifications of the ski resort property recently being listed for sale. “It has bubbled to the top of everybody’s awareness since it has gone up for sale,” Chairman Art Pierce said. “They do have money they owe the water district in various forms. There are significant numbers.”
When he took ownership of the resort, Bruce Cantrell signed a promissory note in the amount of $31,000 at 5% interest for the property’s delinquent water bills. “It was a good faith effort by the water district to get things going,” said Pierce. In addition, about $15,000 is now owed in outstanding water/sewer bills.
General Manager Bob Northup told the board, “Bruce said it will all be taken care of at closing if and when he ever sells it.” Although the board discussed taking court action to collect the outstanding debt, Pierce said, “I would rather watch and see if it will work out.”
Director Jim VanLue asked Northup if Cantrell might be interested in exchanging some of his water rights to satisfy the debt. Northup replied, “I just don’t know if he has any interest in paying off his bill.” But Northup said he would contact Cantrell about the possibility, adding that it would have to involve Snowy Range Reservoir water rights. Pierce summed up the situation by saying, “The board may have been a little too trusting in the past.”
Northup reported the long-awaited US Forest Service permit was received on August 24, and work is proceeding on the Britton Reservoirs. The district staff is performing the work. Northup said he is currently seeking certified “noxious weed free” straw for mulching the seeded areas on slopes under 10%. The district’s time and equipment usage are being covered by a $20,000 grant. Northup expects the project will be finished within 30 days.
The site surveying is done for the Cuchara water tank, and a 100’ x 200’ plot of land has been selected on property owned by Red McCombs. Northup said he has a plat plan to use for the US Forest Service permit application. “As long as it doesn’t take two years,” he added.
Northup said Huerfano County will be bringing a machine up to the ski resort road in order to pull up large rocks and crush them to be applied back to the road. A couple of directors commented it would be nice if the same machine could be used on Panadero Vista Road, since several residents have complained that the road is hard to navigate.
The board also discussed the proposed mill levy increase for Huerfano County Water Conservancy District. With the increased funding, HCWCD is proposing to purchase water rights and develop water storage in Huerfano County in order to keep the water local. There was some discussion about the feasibility of White Creek Reservoir, and from the audience Marshall Moore suggested a reservoir be considered on the North Fork of Baker Creek. “That would benefit us more than on White Creek,” Northup told the board. “We have no raw water storage.”
Moore also brought up the pond augmentation plan which the district sponsors on behalf of private pond owners in the Cuchara valley. The Division of Water Resources recently changed the evapotranspiration rate for the ponds from 28” per year to 40”, which dramatically impacts the amount of water that the district must commit to augmentation. “We need to challenge the change of evaporation rates,” Moore said. Moore suggested that gross and net evaporation tests be conducted using an off-stream pan built to state specifications. “We’d like the pond owners to take the lead and we’ll help any way we can,” Northup said.
The district is researching ACH processing methods, as well as possibly offering other customer payment conveniences. Administrative Assistant Jennette Coe told the board, since Community Banks changed hands, the district has been assessed new fees on its accounts. Coe found that First National Bank in Trinidad offers accounts with fewer fees and told the board, “We may want to switch operating accounts.” Chairman Art Pierce said, “I don’t really want us to go outside the area if we can help it.”
The board discussed the current policy on customer late payment fees, which are one percent of the bill. On an $80 bill, the late fee is 80 cents. “It’s so low it’s not much incentive to pay on time,” Pierce said. There were suggestions to change to a $5.00 or $10.00 late fee, but no decision was reached. If there is a change, the district will most likely put it into effect on January 1, 2013. The board also talked about customers who use more than their allotted water usage and whether they should be billed for overages. “Our billing software has the ability to bill this,” Coe told the board. The monthly residential allotment is 6,667 gallons. Several directors felt that the annual usage for part-year residents probably does not exceed the 80,000 gallon allotment. Director James Howard asked Coe for more information before the board discusses the matter further: “How many people exceed that [average], residential and commercial?”
The board voted to grant a half-rate reduction to Bernard Small, who owns Creekside Café in Cuchara Village. The reduction for the restaurant and tavern, from $86.50 to $43.25 per month, will be in effect from November 2012 through April 2013. Small said, “I can promise that we will be up and running come springtime.”