Westminster city council voted 5-2 on Dec. 21 to effectively do away with the top water rate tier, making the top rate equal to the middle rates. Effective January 2022, Tier 3 water rates will be …
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Westminster city council voted 5-2 on Dec. 21 to effectively do away with the top water rate tier, making the top rate equal to the middle rates.
Effective January 2022, Tier 3 water rates will be $8.15 per thousand gallons. The move comes after a Nov. 29 water study session where city council voted 6-1 to direct staff to deliver a bill that would modify tier 3 rates.
It will affect 25 percent of utility customers who use more than 21,000 gallons of water in a month, according to a meeting agenda written by Interim City Manager Jody Andrews.
Councilor Rich Seymour noted that this is the first step and that council will be working on amending tier 1 and tier 2 rates in the future.
“I believe from what I’ve seen and heard from many many residents is that we missed the mark as far as how big that third tier is,” Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott said. “That un-equitably hit certain people with large lot sizes and if you look at the map of people that that hit, it’s across the city, it’s across all different economic demographics and that’s my concern.”
Councilor Sarah Nurmela said suspending the rates is not an approach for future sustainability and thinks there is more data needed to make an informed decision.
“This is not providing any forward thinking in terms of our long term sustainability.” Nurmela said.
DeMott said that the proposal is data driven and sat before them as a temporary solution while looking at long term decisions.
Councilor Obi Ezeadi said the temporary relief is not equitable.
“I know first-hand that most of the (water rates) impact to the residents, they weren’t all in tier three, they were across all tiers,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me why we would rush this, when we know we are going through fact-finding sessions.”
Ezeadi said the council will receive a proposal for all tiers in January and thinks the council should wait until then to vote.
“Let’s give relief to everyone or no one,” he said. “Let’s make the right decision, not the fast decision.”
Mayor Nancy McNally referenced maps given by the city with blue dots, indicating residents with tier three water rates.
“There is not a place in this city (without) blue dots,” she said.
Max Kirschbaum, Public Works and Utilities Director, said the dots represent individuals that go into the tier three threshold anytime, either once or consistently, which he says is the reason they are distributed throughout the city.
Councilor Lindsey Smith said the change is a workable solution until the city and council formulate a permanent one.
“It’s not a long term solution, but it’s an option right now,” she said.
Nurmela asked about how the move would impact revenues to the city. Kirshbaum said the reserves would offset $750,000.
“The funding for this measure would come from the reserve in the utility and would not impact the capital program,” Andrews said.
Nurmela also noted the tier rate structure was designed to encourage conservation and asked what the impact to saving would be.
“My personal opinion is that it will impact our conservation overall as a city,” said Kirschbaum.
Residents had criticism for councilors for rushing the change.
“This council’s elimination of the tier 3 water rate benefits only 25% of our residents and picks favorites, it’s not equitable,” said Tom Jurgens.
“This is absolutely unequivocally no time to be encouraging more water use in this region in this era than is absolutely necessary,” said Chris Stimpson.
Stimpson also said that maintaining landscapes foreign to the climate is selfish.
Carol Campbell, a 40 year resident of Westminster, thinks this is not the correct decision.
“If the city is concerned that residents cannot afford water, then it should evaluate which residents need financial or technical assistance to minimize their water bills. Alternatively, I think the city should contemplate a new rate and fee cost of service study,” she said.
Michelle Zajic, on behalf of Westminster’s Inclusivity Board, recommended that council postpone their vote. She emphasized stories of residents deciding between paying for their water bills or other necessities like medicine.
“We do not believe these stories are confined exclusively to tier 3 water users,” she said.
Craig Russell, who owns properties in Westminster, noted a flaw in the requirements the city imposes on him.
“I’ve always told them, if God waters I’ll mow, but that’s not good enough for the city program. They’re requiring that I keep my 80 percent of yard grass green,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”
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