Basalt water rates to ease? | AspenTimes.com

Basalt water rates to ease?

Basalt’s year-old policy to hit the town’s biggest water users with hefty surcharges will be reviewed for possible changes just in time for the new irrigation season.

A citizens’ committee that has debated the water rate structure for the past five months is scheduled to formally unveil an alternative policy Tuesday night at Town Hall. The alternative is touted by the committee as doing a better job of promoting conservation without being as punitive as the current system.

The town staff, which worked with the citizens’ committee, is recommending that the council allow a “test” of the new structure.

Basalt adopted stiff new water rates on April 1, 2002. The fees increased for all users but they were raised higher for people who used the most water.

For example, people who use less than 27,000 gallons of water per quarter year saw their fees raised only from 90 cents to $1.15 per 1,000 gallons used.

Users of between 55,000 and 111,600 gallons saw a 187 percent increase from $1.60 to $4.60 per 1,000 gallons used.

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Those who used more than 111,600 gallons had their rates shoot up by 172 percent, from $2.20 to $6.

In comparison, the city of Denver just adopted new surcharges that go as high as $11.85 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Changes in proposal

The alternative proposal keeps the same general philosophy, but gets there in a different way. It uses national averages to establish “reasonable amounts” of indoor and outdoor water usage that could be expected. The formula factors in the family size or number of occupants in a residence and the size of a lawn.

Water customers would be charged a set fee for reasonable use and a higher rate for “excess” use.” In that regard, the fee system is simplified.

However, because the reasonable use would have to be calculated for every household and business – and because virtually all of them would be different – the proposal is also heavy on bureaucracy, or at least heavy in advance planning.

Matt Ferguson, a Basalt homeowner who first protested to the Town Council about the water rates, said he participated in the citizens’ committee and favors the proposed alternative. He said the proposal is founded on the ideas of fairness, conservation and raising enough funds for the town government to pay for its water system infrastructure.

The committee’s research showed that the town’s water rate system raised more money than budgeted last year and more than necessary to pay the bills and maintain an emergency fund.

Ferguson and some other homeowners were hit with sticker shock when they received their water bills for the third quarter, July through September, last year. He reacted by paying his water bill of $605 with $1 bills.

But he said Friday that his real beef was the process used to adopt and maintain the water rate structure. He believes the proposal is fair for all water users because it doesn’t take a cookie-cutter approach and recognizes that different-sized families have different water needs.

Council on hot seat

The water rate debate continues to keep the council on the hot seat. Council members have increasingly relied on citizen committees to work out tough issues for them, and the council has generally followed the recommendations.

However, the current water rate structure has received solid endorsements from at least five of the seven board members. Mayor Rick Stevens irked some water committee members in mid-February when he stated at a council meeting, “I still support where we are unless somebody can come forward and say we’re crazy.”

The current rates also have support among some citizens. Town resident Jim Paussa circulated a letter of support for the water rates among citizens then submitted it to the council last winter. Paussa dropped off the water committee after six meetings because he felt the proceedings were “immature” and at an impasse.

He is now rallying citizens to attend Tuesday’s meeting to defend the current rate structure or notify Town Hall in advance.

Paussa said Friday he respects the time devoted by some water committee members but remains skeptical that the proposed alternative will do a better job of promoting water conservation.

Basalt residents can judge for themselves on Tuesday at a meeting at Town Hall at 6 p.m.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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