Sewer rate hike OK’d

CSD votes 3-1 despite opposition

A half-dozen business, government and school leaders cried foul over rate hikes for sewer service, but those concerns were flushed without much ado.

Despite public disapproval, rates hikes were approved 3-1 by the Cortez Sanitation District on Monday, Dec. 9. No public comments were voiced in favor of the rate hikes, and CSD board director Jim Candelaria had the lone opposition vote. Chairman Dave Waters was absent.

“I think the sewer rates should be based on consumption,” explained Candelaria. “That would be fair.”

Effective Jan. 1, commercial and municipal sewer fees will be determined based on six classifications. While most new business rates are devised based on square footage, hotel fees are linked to the number of units, hospital charges are connected to the number of beds and schools, and day cares are subject to student capacity.

New rates for the Cortez Journal will be determined based on the number of employees.

Owner of a five-unit condominium complex, Gerald Vincent voiced concerns that sewer fees have increased 70 percent since 2008.

“The new rate fees are flawed, unfair, inequitable and arbitrary,” he told CSD officials during a 40-minute public hearing.

To consider the strain rate increases would place on students, Montezuma-Cortez School Superintendent Alex Carter requested CSD officials freeze sewer rates as a gesture of goodwill toward the community.

According to CSD budget forecasts, annual sewer collections from the school district will nearly double next year.

“This needs to be made perfectly clear,” Carter said. “Any additional money we spend on our sanitation bill will come directly from the our schools. This translates into fewer teachers and instructional support staff for our students.”

Both the City of Cortez and Southwest Memorial Hospital are also expected to see double-digit increases in annual sewer fees in 2014.

The cost to flush a toilet at City Hall will be four times higher than at a home that is less than a half-block away, said City Manager Shane Hale.

“The (Cortez Sanitation District) is not trying to make money,” said hired consultant Tyler Harpel. “They are trying to cover their costs.”

CSD officials paid Harpel and his firm, Gunnison-based engineering and surveying firm SGM, about $25,000 to recommend the new rate structure. Harpel argued the new fees – no longer based on actual metered water usage – offer customers a distinct advantage.

“You have a known, fixed fee year-round,” he explained.

Under the new rate structure, commercial customers are awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on decades-old 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.

“We’re trying to get something everyone can swallow,” said CSD district manager Tim Krebs.

“The growing pains are going to be rough for a while, but this is the best we can come up with,” he added.

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 multi-family residences, more than $630,000 from businesses and $9,000 from churches.

CSD’s total operating expenditures in 2014 are projected to be 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.

While CSD officials didn’t freeze sewer rates for the school, they did indicate they plan to work with various customers on a case by case basis.

For example, a portion of the municipal library is likely to be reclassified as warehouse space to help lower the city’s sewer charges, Krebs said.