After dozens of attempts by the city of Westminster to explain its side of things, a large percentage of the public has said loud and clear that it’s against the city’s proposed 2022 water and …
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The community survey the city of Westminster sent out to residents contained five total questions but caused lots of controversy. The first four questions were multiple choice style, in which respondents had to select an answer that ranged “very satisfied” to “dissatisfied.”
The first four questions were:
“(1) How much have you read or heard about Westminster’s water rates?
(2) How much have you read or heard about the city’s WATER2025 program to build a replacement drinking-water plant for our community?
(3) Overall, how satisfied are you with the safety and reliability of water and sewer services provided by the City of Westminster?
(4) Now, how satisfied are you with the cost of water and sewer services provided by the City of Westminster?”
The survey’s fifth question had two choices:
“Please read both options below, and select which response most closely reflects your point of view about Westminster’s water service:
(A) Water rates in our city are too high. The city should be working on ways to keep rates the same and not make large investments in our water system, even if that means water safety and reliability could be impacted.
(B) Reasonable increases to water rates should be made so that the city can make large investments in our system, such as replacing our 50-year-old water treatment plant, to ensure safe and reliable drinking water well into the future.”
After dozens of attempts by the city of Westminster to explain its side of things, a large percentage of the public has said loud and clear that it’s against the city’s proposed 2022 water and sewer rates.
In response to a community survey that received almost 1,900 responses, 56 percent of respondents said they are “very dissatisfied” with the cost of water and sewer services. The negative feedback about current and proposed future rates foreshadows the fierce debate that will occur, as the city tries to finance major infrastructure projects in a few years’ time.
“This survey is ridiculous. We all want safe AFFORDABLE WATER. You can’t drink it if you can’t afford it. Shame on whoever created this survey,” said one person in the survey’s open-ended response section.
There were hundreds of similar responses cataloged across 150 pages where residents expressed dissatisfaction about water rates and the survey itself. Sprinkled throughout the 150 pages were comments from the other end.
“If people don’t like the rate hikes, then they should take a hike,” said one respondent. “The solution is easy, if you don’t like how much you’re paying for a service, then use it less or don’t use it at all. Boil your noodles with 4 bottles of Aquafina for all I care and then let’s talk expenses.”
In response to a specific question within the survey, 53 percent of respondents said that water rates are too high.
The debate between residents in survey responses is fueled by the larger battle in the community about water rates and the recall. The Westminster Water Warriors, a community group, tried to force recall elections against four members of Westminster City Council, former Mayor Herb Atchison, Mayor Anita Seitz, and Councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz. They were successful in securing a recall election for Voelz, set for July 20. The Warriors started the recall campaign because they said the four councilors supported higher water rates, although Voelz defends he wasn’t on council the last time it voted for rate increases in 2018.
In March, city staff proposed that water rates go up 4 percent in 2022 and sewer rates by 5.5 percent. One of the highest priority projects the city said it needs the rates to help pay for is Water2025, a replacement to the city’s existing water treatment plant. The city sent out the survey before council will take a formal vote on the rates, currently scheduled for a June 24 meeting.
The responses the city received were likely affected by a Warriors opposition campaign on social media. “I respectfully ask that you refrain from wasting any more City Money on this flawed survey and take it down from the city website or amend it to allow for a clear objective response from the recipients,” the Warriors posted on its Facebook page April 25.
The group was particularly critical of the survey’s fifth question, which survey respondents parroted. “Question 5 is bogus. How dare you assume the residents of Westminster are too stupid to see a baited question,” said one open-ended response.
The survey showed that residents are passionate about the issue and that they are taking sides. That divide was already apparent, but the survey quantified it. The responses lend to uncertainty about the rates’ passage since council is currently split 3-3 — Seitz, Skulley and Voelz on one side and Councilors David DeMott, Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith on the other side — with water rates and interrelated issues.
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