City rejects argument for raising sewer rates

Sheek: ‘It doesn’t make any sense’

The Cortez Sanitation District has repeatedly claimed that sewer rates had to be adjusted at the beginning of the year because of inconsistent and unreliable billing data from the city.

City officials, however, have emphatically dismissed those allegations.

“We don’t believe the city has ever actively over- or undercharged its water customers,” said Mayor Karen Sheek. “It doesn’t make any sense that the city would not charge a customer for the water they use.”

In a joint reply from council members, Sheek said municipal water fees were used to maintain and update the city’s water system. The water billing department constantly monitors water usage, and when discrepancies appear, staff checks the meter and replaces it if necessary, she said.

Before Jan. 1, CSD billed sewer customers based on consumption using water usage data from the city. CSD officials have maintained that the city’s numbers were too unreliable for proper billing, and they commissioned a $25,000 rate study to examine the issue. Starting Jan. 1, rates were changed and instead based on two-decade-old national averages.

Multiple small-business owners, some of whom have seen rates increase by more than 300 percent in 2014, have repeatedly cried foul and sought relief from the CSD, but to no avail. The city, local schools and hospital have also experienced double-digit increases in sewer rates this year.

In a letter to CSD officials on May 12, Sheek wrote that she was hopeful that a more civil and positive partnership could be established with newly elected CSD board members. She requested that the new CSD board reconsider its rate structure.

“I fear that many of our commercial properties will simply go out of business if there isn’t a rational and intelligent look at how these rates are calculated,” Sheek wrote. “The citizens of Cortez deserve better than the recent actions of the sanitation board, and I believe that they spoke loud and clear in this election that a better effort is needed.”

Ryan Griglak, Tim Robinson and Ray Fox, three challengers to the Cortez Sanitation District, won seats on the board in a landslide election earlier this month, forcing two incumbents out of office. Another incumbent relinquished his post because of term limits.

At a CSD swearing-in ceremony on May 12, multiple small-business owners again requested rate relief from sanitation officials.

Returning board member John Stramel has remained defiant, defending the new rate structure, but Fox and Griglak have demonstrated more sympathy to citizens’ grievances.

“We need to do something,” Fox said.

Fox and Griglak have cautioned that it would take time to re-examine the issue, stating the board was unable to change rates immediately. Robinson said the rate structure was at the top of the board’s to-do list.

“Small businesses are the heart of Cortez,” Robinson said.

Under the new CSD rate structure, commercial sewer fees are determined based on six classifications. While most new business rates are 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 are based on number of employees.