Sewer fees put dream in limbo

CSD offers no concessions to lodgers; immigrant-owners fear the worst

In 1981, martial law was imposed as communism was on the verge of collapse in Poland. Thousands were subsequently imprisoned. To improve their lives, Teresa and Chris Wlodyka left their homeland behind.

“We didn’t agree with the communist regime,” explained Chris Wlodyka. “We got political asylum here in the U.S.”

In 1982, the couple landed on the shores of Norfolk, Va., with their 4-year-old daughter. The couple eventually relocated to Chicago, where he found a manufacturing job. She learned English and obtained a nursing degree.

Then in 1996, they moved to Cortez, where they took out a 30-year mortgage to purchase the Tomahawk Lodge. They worked to remodel the 37-room lodge and turn their American dream into reality.

“Times were good, but we’re afraid it all may end soon,” said Teresa Wlodyka.

On Monday, Teresa Wlodyka shared her fears with the Cortez Sanitation District, telling board members the new rate structure they imposed this year could force her and her husband onto the streets.

Last year, the Tomahawk Lodge paid about $1,500 in sewer fees. This year, the motel is forecast to pay more than $6,000, an increase of 300 percent.

“We’re doing our best to stay in business,” Teresa Wlodyka told board members.

Lodgers lodge complaints

Wlodyka was one of six local hotel and RV park business owners who complained to CSD board members Monday, April 14 about steep sewer rate increases. All the lodgers present indicated the rate hikes could possibly close their doors.

“Put yourself in my shoes,” Wlodyka said. “Figure out something that is fair to everyone. I know you can.”

CSD board member John Stramel said sewer rates were not increased, but rather adjusted because of inaccurate billing data provided by the city. Using 20-year-old national averages, CSD board members approved a rate structure based on capacity rather than consumption for its commercial customers effective Jan. 1.

“If I were a business owner, I’d be grateful for all the years I paid less,” replied Stramel to Wlodyka and other lodgers’ concerns about increased rates.

According to a CSD report, the nonprofit utility company provides sewer service to a total of 15 area hotels. Total rates increased by an average of 90 percent for 13 of those lodgers.

CSD board president Dave Waters said rates could only be adjusted if business owners provided a “legitimate reason.” The current rates were set to provide businesses with the capability to use sewer services, he added.

“We have to maintain our capacity,” Waters said.

“You should be willing to listen to your customers,” replied Wlodyka. “Help our small businesses to survive.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Waters responded. “We’re trying to be fair, and charge every hotel the same rate to meet capacity demands.”

The rates explained

Under the new CSD rate structure, 2014 commercial sewer fees are determined based on six different classifications.

While most business rates are based on square footage, hotel fees are linked to total number of units, hospital charges are connected to total number of beds and schools and day cares are subject to total student capacity.

New rates for The Cortez Journal are determined based on total number of employees.

CSD approved the rate hike after a $25,000 engineering study, which suggested commercial customers be awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on 1994 American Water Works Association guidelines.

The SFE ratio is 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.

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. CSD’s total operating expenditures in 2014 are projected at nearly $1.6 million.

No solution

Last month, CSD district manager Tim Krebs suggested board members adopt an across-the-board 25 percent rate discount for all hotel customers during off-season months. The reduction would help restore rates to historic levels, Krebs said.

CSD board members, however, shelved the idea, and have consistently refused to offer any concessions to hotel owners. They even failed to respond at all Monday when Wlodyka requested a timeline for any future relief.

“I try to remain optimistic, but I’m getting tired,” she said. “It’s an injustice.”

For the Wlodykas, their only solace is knowing their daughter, now a doctor in Wisconsin, still has the opportunity to improve her life and that of their two grandchildren.

“At least for our daughter, this country provided her dreams,” said Teresa Wlodyka.