Sewer rates raising a stink?

Impact on City Hall reflects apparent inequity of rates

The cost to flush a toilet at City Hall could be four times higher than at a home less than a half-block away if the Cortez Sanitation District approves new sewer rates next week.

Cortez City Manager Shane Hale said municipal leaders have been meeting with CSD officials to fully understand the impacts new rates would have on city facilities.

“Preliminarily, it looks as though the majority of city buildings will be assessed with exorbitant increases, ranging from four to eight times what the city currently pays for this service,” Hale said.

The most dramatic increases will be felt at the recreation center, where the sewer rates would increase from an average of $93 per month to $762 per month. City Hall, Cortez Police Department, municipal pool and city service center are all projected to see rates increase four-fold.

“From our standpoint, these increases are excessive,” Hale said.

Current sewer rates for the city and other businesses are based on actual metered water usage. City Hall currently uses 3,000 to 4,000 gallons per month of water, approximately half what a single family home is presumed to use.

“The bill for City Hall will go from $29 a month to a proposed $116 per month, or four times what a single family home pays,” Hale said.

Taxpayers would be responsible for picking up the city sewer tab, with total annual municipal sewer collections increasing from $27,600 in 2013 to $52,500 in 2014, according to CSD budget forecasts.

CSD’s new proposed sewer fees would be billed starting Jan. 1. Commercial and municipal rates would be determined based on six different classifications, with a majority of the new rates based on square footage. Hotel charges, however, are linked to the number of units, the hospital is related to the number of beds, and schools and day cares are subject to student capacity. And new rates for the Cortez Journal will be determined based on the number of employees.

CSD officials have indicated that each business type is awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on American Water Works Association guidelines. The SFE ratio is then multiplied by the square footage, number of employees or number of beds, for example, which is then multiplied by $30 to determine the business’s monthly sewer rate.

According to CSD budget figures, annual sewer collections from area schools are also expected to nearly double starting next year. CSD officials project the school district’s annual rates will increase from $19,200 in 2013 to $37,920 in 2014.

Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter declined to comment about the impact of the proposed increased rates on the school’s finances, but he did indicate that he was planning to attend the second and final public hearing on the matter.

CSD will hosts the public hearing on Monday, Dec. 9, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Under the new rate structure, CSD projects to collect more than $2.1 million in service fees in 2014, an increase of more than $77,000 over 2013 revenues. Nearly half – $970,000 – of all collections will come from residential users, followed by nearly $400,000 from multifamily residences, more than $630,000 from businesses and $9,000 from churches. CSD’s total operating expenditures in 2014 are projected at nearly $1.6 million.

New residential sewer rates, including single-family residences, duplexes, apartments and mobile homes, contain a flat $30 monthly sewer fee without regard to the number of occupants.

Under the new rate structure, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse would pay $12 per month for sewer; a 1,000-square-foot beauty salon, $51 per month; a 200-seat movie theater, $18 per month; a 5,000-square-foot nursing home, $216 per month; a five-bay self-serve car wash and a 25-space RV park with full hookups, $300 per month; a 5,000-square-foot restaurant or bar, $364.50 per month; a 50-unit hotel with restaurant, $1,035 per month; a 50-unit hotel without a restaurant, $720 per month; and a 1,000-square-foot laundry mat, $357 per month.