Westminster City Council made it clear that there are two sides who still feel very different about water rates during a Jan. 28 study session, One side is adamant about lowering rates, the other …
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Westminster City Council made it clear that there are two sides who still feel very different about water rates during a Jan. 28 study session,
One side is adamant about lowering rates, the other group endorses the current trajectory based on recommendations from city staff. Councilors on both ends indicated they won’t change their opinion in the near future. By May, they will have to vote on rates for 2022.
The cost of water has been a major political litmus test in town, ever since the Westminster Water Warriors launched a recall campaign against Mayor Herb Atchison, Mayor Pro Tem Anita Seitz, and Councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz last year. The Water Warriors have criticized the four for supporting water rate increases. The recall group hasn’t targeted the three others, Councilors David DeMott, Lindsey Smith and Rich Seymour, who have called for lower rates.
Water and sewer rates went up in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but not in 2021. However, it’s something council will have to consider for 2022, thus the reason for the Jan. 28 meeting.
In the study session, staff reviewed major, future utility expenditures, and ways to finance it all. The biggest is what the city has dubbed, “Water 2025,” or the construction of a new water treatment plant. The current water treatment plant, Semper, has existed for 50 years and has about 15 to 20 years left, according to a city web page. Renovations won’t suffice. The city needs a new facility that can adapt to changing regulations, address future water supply shortages and is resilient when wildfires threaten the watershed, for example. The final sticker price is currently unknown.
In addition, aging infrastructure, such as pipes, will need replacing, and the city is planning on other capital improvement projects for its water and sewer systems. Also, the city will need to pay off the debt it borrowed to help finance these projects. That means city staff will likely recommend increases in 2022, Atchison said at the Jan. 28 meeting.
However, there might be different ways to get at that. The city could draw from reserves to help with utility infrastructure costs, thus lessening the percentage rates would increase.
The entire council wasn’t opposed to that idea, but some members ultimately want rates to go down.
“I don’t like the path we’re on and we need to make a change, in my opinion,” DeMott said.
DeMott’s comment was in response to a question Atchison asked if the council wants to continue supporting the city’s “six integrated policies” for water delivery. The policies include simplification of water use tiers, enhancing fixed water revenues and maintaining single sewer rates, among others. Seitz pressed DeMott on which of the six policies he doesn’t support.
“It’s hard for me to pick one-by-one,” DeMott responded, “All I know is we’re in an unaffordable space, in my opinion.”
Seitz wanted something more specific. “We’ve spent 10 hours, though, discussing public how we got to each one of these,” the mayor pro tem said, “So, I would love to hear specifically after understanding the data which ones you feel comfortable changing and your reasoning behind it. I just want to understand logically how we can provide, which I know you agree with, high quality, safe, reliable, compliant drinking water to our residents.”
Comments from other councilors showed that the four and the three remain divided on the issue. They agreed on other items, though. Everyone supported a recommendation for the city to implement a 30-day billing cycle, as well as a gallon-based billing system. There was no formal voting at the meeting.
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