Aspen sanitation district raises rates 10% |

Aspen sanitation district raises rates 10%

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
aspensan.comAspen's wastewater treatment plant may need repairs to its aeration system. The sanitation district recently hiked its rates to help cover repair and maintenance costs.

ASPEN – Some Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District customers were surprised last week when they opened their bills and discovered a slight increase over the amount they normally pay.

Bruce Matherly, manager for the quasi-public entity that handles sewer maintenance and wastewater treatment for Aspen and outlying areas, said the district board approved a 10 percent rate increase in early December. He said some customers have called to question the hike over the past few days, and most have expressed understanding of the reason once it was explained.

“They’re frustrated that they didn’t know about this ahead of time,” Matherly said. “And I can understand that.”

He said in October, the district published a notice in The Aspen Times that it was preparing its 2011 budget and that the public was invited to inquire about the details. But the notice made no mention of a potential increase in service charges, which will be applied to customers’ quarterly bills this year.

The district is not required to hold a special public hearing on rate increases. It must, however, hold a hearing on the overall annual budget, and that was conducted in December, Matherly said. At that meeting, the increase was discussed.

The rate hike was necessary, he said, because the downturn in the economy over the last few years has led to a construction slowdown. New construction means new business for the sanitation district, and pumps money into the entity’s capital fund, which pays for various repair and maintenance projects for the area’s sewer and wastewater-treatment systems.

Capital revenues have fallen steadily since 2007, when they amounted to $3 million. They totaled an estimated $800,000 in 2008, $500,000 in 2009 and $350,000 in 2010. This year, the district has budgeted $478,000 for capital projects, but that’s a loose projection, and not all of the tasks outlined in the budget will be tackled.

“We don’t have a use-it-or-lose-it philosophy,” Matherly said.

The board decided to raise rates 10 percent as a method of garnering extra money to cover the cost of 2011 projects – whether scheduled or unforeseen. The district has a rainy-day fund to cover emergencies but didn’t feel it would be fiscally prudent to tap it, he said.

The increase will generate about $280,000 over the year, Matherly said. “It’s not much money, but every bit helps,” he said. “The board is trying to stay proactive and increase the revenue stream just in case. We’ll see if the increase keeps us in the black.”

He said small projects can add up quickly, such as last year’s repairs to sewer lines on Red Mountain, which ended up costing $150,000.

The last major project tackled by the district was $11 million worth of capital improvements to the wastewater treatment facility in 2007. The work required a revenue bond issue of $9.5 million. Available cash was used to cover the balance.

Currently the district is having some issues with its aeration system. The problem is a lack of consistency in getting enough air to microorganisms used to treat wastewater before it’s released into the Roaring Fork River. The water the district releases has to be extra sanitary because the river is a gold-medal trout-fishing stream.

The district is discussing the issue with the aeration system’s manufacturer to see if the problem is covered through warranty. If not, repairs could end up costing as much as $250,000, Matherly said.

In addition to the treatment plant, the district maintains a 65-mile network of sewer lines, which are in “pretty good shape overall,” he said. The entire system is monitored by closed-circuit cameras, enabling the district to spot problems quickly, Matherly said.

The district’s operations budget rose from $2.95 million in 2010 to $3.02 million this year, he added.

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