by Edi Sheldon
WALSENBURG — The city of Walsenburg has recently implemented increases in consumers’ water and sewer rates causing much consternation to many residents. There is justification for these increases.
Several years ago the city took out a bond with the approval of the voters to build a new water treatment plant. It operates efficiently and, with the exception of water line breaks, we have merely to turn on the facet and out comes clean, potable water.
However, a few years ago, the State Water Quality Control Dept., (CWQCD), began issuing warnings that Walsenburg needed to upgrade its sewage disposal system. The CWQCD even threatened to impose large fines if the city did not provide evidence for state officials to review that it was taking corrective action.
There were meetings set with CWQCD, Department of Local Affairs, ( DoLA), and representatives of Walsenburg’s preferred bonding company. The proposal was put on the table the cost to build a new sewer plant could be paid for by combining the current bond (taken to pay for the water treatment plant) with a new bond to pay for the sewage disposal plant.
At the time, this seemed like a reasonable idea. The economy was doing well, and the prison was paying a huge water and sewer fee to the city. Therefore, the general consensus was that the incoming revenue stream would adequately pay for the increased cost, if a new sliding scale for increases in the water and sewer rates was implemented.
The city council wanted to see an example of the gradually increasing scale to be sure it would not create chaos among the resident rate payers. After the sliding scale rates were revised to make them more fair, the measure was approved by the general public. Then the bonding company issued the combined new bond. The city then advertised for and chose an architect and a planning firm.
Considering the need to service the prison, plans were drawn up to increase the processing part of the proposed sewer plant so that it would not strain the new plant to process the sewage from the prison. At the time, sewage was straining the septic lagoons south of the city. The combined bond debt, the repayment plan, and the gradual increases in rates all seemed quite reasonable at the time. However, no one anticipated that the prison would eventually close its doors!
The prison closure, coupled with the loss of the Walsenburg Care Center, Quest Manufacturing, and more than a dozen family-owned businesses, has caused severe difficulties for our city. Most importantly, the business closings have depleted jobs in the community and forced many former residents to move elsewhere. The combined loss of population has also caused an exceptional financial hardship on this community.
Unfortunately, those residents who remain still bear the responsibility for paying the fees for both plants, and there have not been adequate increases in either sewer or water rates within Walsenburg’s population for quite some time. To those residents who have not studied the facts accompanying our sewer issues, the first notable increase in several years seems exorbitant. However, for anyone reviewing rates for other communities of comparable size, these rates do not seem out of line.
Citizens should question their community government when in doubt, but relaying false rumors does no good. The true reasons for the increases in the water and sewage rages are sound. Money not spent immediately will be placed in reserve accounts and used for badly needed repairs to both water and sewer lines. Some of the money will be used to upgrade and add new lines within the city. However, not a cent of the rate increases will be spent on the new Northlands sewer line. The money for building that sewer line has been procured from other resources. (See last week’s article for details.)
Growth in our community is absolutely essential for the overall health of the city. Without the addition of new businesses, jobs and increased sales taxes, it will be hard for the city to continue to pay its obligations. Citizens wishing to sell real estate will face challenges as newcomers will not want to move here without more employment opportunities. The population of our school system will not grow, and the community will continue to lose population rather than grow and prosper. Also, increases in rates for essential services like water and sewer will strain the budgets of residents who remain.
When growth is planned, it is welcomed. It is necessary for Walsenburg to experience growth in order to achieve a well-balanced community that everyone can enjoy.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward