Basalt buck, actually 605 of them, stops with council over water rate | AspenTimes.com

Basalt buck, actually 605 of them, stops with council over water rate

A protester left no doubt last night that the buck stops with the Basalt Town Council over a controversial decision to hike water rates this year.

Homeowner Matt Ferguson paid off his $605 water bill for the summer months entirely in $1 bills at the Town Council meeting.

“I’ve come to pay my water bill, not out of disrespect but to drive home a point,” Ferguson said while pulling six stacks of bills out of a paper bag.

He said the high new rates that Basalt charges for water tripled his bill from the same period last year. Ferguson claimed he knows of several residents who are upset over the steep hike.

“There’s a groundswell of discontent,” he told the council.

@ATD Sub heds:Conservation step

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@ATD body copy: Basalt’s elected officials increased rates April 1 to conserve water and to pay for improvements and expansion to the water supply infrastructure. The base rate remained at $60 per quarter. However, the town also has a tiered payment system based on consumption.

The rate per gallon for the lowest users ? those consuming up to 27,000 gallons ? was increased from 90 cents to $1.15

The rate for use of between 27,001 and 54,900 gallons went from $1.30 to $2.00.

Then the price hike really hit the pocketbooks. Users of between 54,901 to 111,600 gallons saw an increase from $1.60 to $4.60. Use above 111,601 gallons skyrocketed from $2.20 to $6.

Ferguson said he is being punished despite successful conservation by his family of five. He said his family’s consumption has steadily decreased.

In a letter to Basalt public services manager Bob Gish, Ferguson complained that he was being penalized for having a large yard but not given credit for demonstrating lower use than in prior years.

He wrote that he will never be able to conserve enough to lower his rate into the lower two tiers of the pricing system. “In other words, we are forever locked into these rates unless we kill our lawns or concrete over our yards,” his letter said.

Ferguson lives on Riverside Drive. He was unsure of the exact size of his yard but estimated it at 10,000 square feet. He said he has no apologies for a large yard because he uses it as a playground with his three kids.

@ATD Sub heds:Seeks refund

@ATD body copy: Ferguson is leading a group of citizens who feel they are targets of “social engineering” by a contingent of the council that wants to discourage bluegrass lawns and encourage Xeriscaping, the use of drought-resistant landscaping.

“The current Board ? or elements thereof ? seems hell bent on some town wide Xeriscape solution and being the Colorado forerunner on water issues by taxing the heck out of our families,” Ferguson wrote to town officials. “These folks are retroactively outlawing lawns.”

Ferguson and other homeowners took their concerns to the Town Council last month and felt insulted by the comments of some board members, especially trustee Anne Freedman. Ferguson said she likened the need for higher water rates to the need to tax cigarette smokers.

He said that was an inappropriate comparison.

But town officials did make one concession last month. They agreed to appoint a citizen committee early next year to review the new water rates. Ferguson asked the board last night to speed formation of that committee.

In the meantime, he will press for a refund of some of the money paid by Basalt water users and lobby the council to adjust the rates.

“I plan to mount a legal challenge to the offending ordinance in the event relief is not immediately forthcoming,” Ferguson warned in his letter.

He said he has heard from other residents who have mentioned everything from a recall of certain Town Council members to lawsuits.

Ferguson said he hopes town officials will adjust the water rates before it comes to that.

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