Water rate compromise hopes fade

Council study session shows sharp conflicts over staff recommendations

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/2/21

Even though Westminster City Council voted 5-1 against the city’s recommendations for 2022 water rates, the six-member council is split on fundamental ideas on which the city’s plan for utilities …

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Water rate compromise hopes fade

Council study session shows sharp conflicts over staff recommendations

Posted

Even though Westminster City Council voted 5-1 against the city’s recommendations for 2022 water rates, the six-member council is split on fundamental ideas on which the city’s plan for utilities is based.

The even split on council over water rates has been publicly known for months, but councilors haven’t articulated the depths of their disagreements like they did at a June 21 study session. Instead of differing over percentages of water rate increases, councilors dispute the actual utilities infrastructure the city says the community needs.

The entire council, except for Mayor Anita Seitz, voted against the city’s recommendations to increase water rates in 2022 by 3.9 percent and sewer rates by 5.5. percent at a June 14 meeting.

However, at the June 21 study session, Seitz and Councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz said they agree with the overall direction that the city’s utilities is headed. Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott and Councilors Lindsey Smith and Rich Seymour said the opposite.

The June 21 study session discussion was about alternatives to the recently rejected rate recommendations, but the conversation quickly became about deeper disagreements. DeMott said, “I’ve talked to enough people and been in this community long enough to know that some people who think that the prior administrations and the prior leadership did take care of the system and did plan ahead, question whether or not we need a plant. I have uncomfortable feelings about where we are even going in the direction.”

Westminster’s highest utility priority is replacing the Semper Water Treatment Facility, or what the city has dubbed Water2025. Originally, the city was considering recommending higher rates to council than the 3.9 percent and 5.5 percent increases to finance a longer list of capital improvement plan projects.

Council directed city staff to lower the recommendations, so staff deferred several CIP projects. The maneuver lowered the recommendations, but still enabled the city to generate enough revenue for Water2025.

Even though council rejected the 3.9 percent and 5.5 percent increases, the city is still set on meeting the same revenue projections. City Manager Don Tripp said at the study session, “I am working off the assumption that we have the revenue right.”

If councilors don’t agree on the revenue projections, Tripp said, “Our report to you is that the infrastructure investment will be reduced. I do believe that some of you believe that it wouldn’t be. That, in some way, we either don’t need that much infrastructure or there’s a different way to do it that would be less costly.”

In response, Seymour said that he thinks the city is overshooting its revenue projections, while DeMott and Smith just said they don’t agree with the projections. Then, DeMott and Smith called for a third-party audit of the city’s current utilities plan. Max Kirschbaum, public works and utilities director, defended that the plan has already been reviewed by, “a nationally recognized utility expert who assists approximately 25 percent of all of the utility providers in America in performing that work.”

The idea of an audit felt unnecessary to Seitz and Skulley. Skulley said, “This is just taxpayer money that we continually use for things that we have already done and established, and I have resistance to doing that.”

The study session discussion concluded with little resolution. Tripp said he would reconvene with city staff to draft a presentation for council that would convince Seymour, Smith and DeMott about the revenue projections.

But Seitz wasn’t optimistic. “I feel quite frankly a little frustrated. Because we have spent an inordinate amount of time going over this information multiple times,” the mayor said. “I don’t know if there will be some level of information that gets people to buy into it. That’s my concern.”

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