Saying it needed to make a difficult decision — and against the wishes of many residents — the Westminster City Council voted Sept. 24 to increase water rates and tap fees across the city. “I …
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Saying it needed to make a difficult decision — and against the wishes of many residents — the Westminster City Council voted Sept. 24 to increase water rates and tap fees across the city.
“I don’t think anyone runs a political PR campaign by raising fees or rates,” Councilor Anita Seitz said. “I think it’s one of the hardest things to do, asking all of us to pitch in together to invest in our community so that we have safe, reliable drinking water.”
Councilors voted 5-1 to increase water rates by about $11 a month next year and another $11.50 in 2020. Those new rates would affect about 78 percent of all Westminster households, which represents the average water use for a family of three with a yard.
Councilor David DeMott was the sole no vote, saying he supports the water utility but not the rate increase. DeMott suggested it might be possible to pay for repairs to the system from the city’s general fund.
“I know that it’s difficult to do because of TABOR, but I’ve been told that it can be done,” DeMott said.
Now, the matter comes back to councilors Oct. 8 for a second-reading vote.
It was a long night for councilors, staff and interested residents. A group of 25 spoke against the rate increase, talking until almost 10 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., councilors voted to extend the meeting for another hour at least and councilors finally voted on the rate increases at about 11 p.m.
Customers that use more water — including large families that need to irrigate more than an acre of grass or landscaping — would see higher increases. Those customers, with an annual water and sewer bill of $200 or more, could see that bill increase $73 per month in 2019 and another $32 in 2020, according to the city.
Tap fees, paid by developers, would also increase.
Max Kirschbaum, director of Public Works and Utilities, told councilors the increases are needed to keep up with the rising costs of maintaining the city’s water system.
Those costs include general maintenance across the city — including pipes, tanks and purchasing chemicals, he said. But they also represent major projects, such as replacing the city’s Semper Water Treatment Facility by 2025 and improvements to the sewer collection system in the Big Dry Creek area. Councilors approved a development moratorium for the area from 92nd Avenue north to 136th while engineers investigate the costs and needs of replacing that sewer system.
Revenues will be predominately spent on taking care of specific infrastructure that has already shown signs of failure or reached the end of its useful life, Kirschbaum said.
Out of reach
Residents argued that new rates would be especially hard on longtime residents with larger lots. Many feared the new rates would push their water bills out of reach.
“These rates might look good until you put them down on paper and then look at what people are actually making,” said Joann Price, of Julian Court.
Price said she was surprised this summer to get a $370 bill for the month of July, a big increase compared to last year.
“So with these new rates, next July will we start getting $600 bills?” Price said.
Anil Mahtai, chair of the Adams County Republican Party, and a Westminster resident, called it an example of socialism and a con game.
“We have to stop this con game,” he said. “We have taxpayers that cannot pay and middle class families will be leaving. I am asking you to stop this, go back and decrease the city government and go into your budget find other ways to repair all the damages you need to.”
Others also complained that they did not know about the rate increase until recently. The city included information about the proposed increase in its monthly newsletter, in emails to residents and hosted several meetings on the topic, but residents said that was not enough.
“It should have been sent out by water bill or door-to-door,” Price said. “It’s going to affect every resident, so I don’t think it’s fair if it’s not out there for every person.”
Councilor DeMott echoed that sentiment.
“My job is to show you what we are doing,” he said, “and make sure it lines up with what you elected me to do.”
But Seitz said none of that stopped councilors from doing what needed to be done.
“We have safe drinking water now because of decisions people have made over a long period of time,” Seitz said. “These are not easy decisions but they are important. I wish there was a way for us to have the repairs we need that didn’t cost money. But this is not something that has snuck up on us. We have been asking these questions and staff has been making reports to us.”
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