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Basalt sewer district turns to voters

When Basalt officials decided to clamp down on growth in recent years they might as well have flushed money down the toilet, as far as the sanitation district is concerned.

A lack of new business is forcing the Basalt Sanitation District to adopt a new strategy to pay its debts.

“The district is basically the victim of unintended consequences,” said Clay Crossland, chairman of the sanitation district’s board of directors.

The sewer district is in an interesting quandary. It experienced enough growth in the late 1990s to trigger a state-mandated expansion of its wastewater treatment plant. It took out revenue bonds this year to pay for the $2.85 million expansion and upgrading of its facility, Crossland said.

But a two-year growth moratorium enacted by the town of Basalt starting in August 1997 finally started to affect the sanitation district’s pocketbook this year.

On average, the district has sold 76 “taps,” or sewer hook-ups, each of the last five years, Crossland said. The revenue bonds would have been paid back with the projected sale of 50 taps per year.

But with the slowdown in the town’s growth, only eight taps have been sold this year, said Crossland. And no major projects are coming on line within the district’s boundaries anytime soon.

The Basalt Sanitation District serves the traditional core of the town, including the developments south of the Basalt Bypass. West Basalt – where growth is occurring at the previously-approved residential section of the Willits project – is served by the Midvalley Metropolitan District, a separate water and sanitation entity.

Since the Basalt district cannot count on tap sales to retire the debt on revenue bonds, it must turn to voters for help in the Nov. 7 election.

The district’s residents will be asked to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds to pay for the plant expansion. The new bonds would be paid through a property tax increase of 2.70 mills.

The current rate is 1.4 mills, so the total would be boosted to 4.10 mills if the question is approved.

Information calculated by the sanitation district showed that the owner of a home with an assessed value of $400,000 would pay an additional $105 annually or $8.77 per month if the tax increase is approved.

Approval would also authorize the district to spend $400,000 on a new clarifier that would improve the quality of water being discharged from the plant. It is an environmentally-friendly step that makes more sense than spending $125,000 to maintain the current clarifier, which isn’t as effective, said Crossland.

He said the district is vowing to resort to taxes only in those years when tap fee revenues do not cover the debt service amount. In other words, if Basalt booms again, the extra property tax revenues won’t be needed.

If the ballot issue fails, the district may need to increase the monthly fees that members pay to retire the debt, said Crossland.

No opposition has emerged to the proposal.

That’s not the only obscure sewer issue that some midvalley voters will face this fall. Midvalley Metropolitan District customers will also decide the fate of a ballot question in November.

The Midvalley District plans to build a new plant at its site just downvalley from the Blue Lake subdivision. The work is necessary to serve growth within the district’s existing boundaries – not to expand its service area, stressed board of directors president Ted Guy.

The new plant would exceed treatment standards for ammonia and phosphates, both of which are affecting the quality of the Roaring Fork River and will likely be highly regulated by the state in the future, said Guy.

The district is seeking permission to increase its debt by $2,835,000. That would allow construction of a new plant that would replace the district’s current lagoon treatment system.

Although approval of the ballot question would authorize a property tax increase to pay for the increased debt, Guy said the district wouldn’t necessarily levy that tax. The debt could be retired from the sale of water and sewer taps and from the district’s reserve, he said.

However, the district must have the option of using property tax revenues in order to issue general obligation bonds, said Guy.

Only current members of the Midvalley Metropolitan District will vote on the issue. No opposition has emerged.


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