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Water / sewer rate increase approved

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — A compromise vote broke a stalemate at the Walsenburg City Council meeting Nov. 20 which allowed for passage of the ordinance that increases water and sewer rates.
Even though the ordinance passed first reading on a 6 to 2 vote earlier in the month, when Ordinance 1016 came before the city council last week the vote was tied at four in favor and four opposed. Newly seated Ward 2 council member Cathy Pineda voted against passage and joining her were James Baca, Rick Jennings and Craig Lessar. Votes cast in favor of the ordinance came from Mayor Larry Patrick, and council members Nick Vigil, Erin Jerant, and Silvana Lind. Council member James Moore was absent from the meeting.
When the tie vote was recorded, the emotional issue was opened for debate once again. “Is anyone willing to change their vote,” Patrick asked? “No one wants to raise rates, but we have no choice,” Vigil said. “I’m very opposed to this rate structure,” Pineda said. James Baca, Pineda and Lessar all said in effect that in-town residents are taking the bulk of the financial hit under this proposal.
“To save your neighbor $20, you are going to cost the citizens of Walsenburg another $30,000 this month,” Patrick said to Baca.
The administration has estimated the city is losing between $8,000 to $10,000 a week in revenue under the old water / sewer billing structure.
The ordinance was unchanged from first reading and the rate increase takes into account the basic needs of the enterprise funds: debt service, repair-replacement of aging infrastructure and consumption.
The base rates for water for in town residents will be $18.05 for water system debt service; $18.01 for repair / replacement and $3.30 for every 1,000 gallons of water used. The base rates for in town sewer will be $22.41 for debt service; $9.90 for repair / replacement and $5.27 for treatment per 1,000 gallons.
Rates for outside of city limits water customers will be: $22.56 for debt service; $22.51 for repair / replacement and $3.71 per 1,000 gallons used. The base sanitary sewer system fees for outside city users are now $28.02 for debt service; $12.37 for repair / replacement and $6.59 per 1,000 gallons for treatment.
Earlier in the month city council members learned that free rate structure reviews were available from state and federal agencies. Pineda said she would have been more comfortable with the ordinance had those rate studies already been accomplished. The availability of those rate studys did play a major role in breaking the tie vote.
Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar said he would change his vote from no to yes, if the city moved forward and requested the rate studies and a review of Ordinance 1016 was done no later than six months in the future. Lessar changed his vote to yes and made a secondary motion calling for the rate reviews to be requested and the new fee structure to be readdressed once those reviews have been finished and presented to city administration.
That broke the tie and approved the ordinance on second reading 5 to 3. The secondary motion made by Lessar passed 7 to 1, with councilman Baca voting against it.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the USDA studies have been requested according to interim city administrator David Johnston. He said this week both of the agencies have indicated the studies will likely not be completed until the end of February or early to mid March 2013. “They are requesting a copy of our city budget and will look specifically at the audited expenses for the water and sewer enterprise funds,” Johnston said on Monday. He said the information DOLA and USDA have requested should be going out to the agencies as soon as this week.
Walsenburg water and sewer customers will see the rate increase in their November bills that will be sent out at the beginning of December.