Citizens group to fish Basalt out of hot water? | AspenTimes.com

Citizens group to fish Basalt out of hot water?

A new citizens’ committee in Basalt might get public officials there out of hot water.

The committee will start meeting Thursday to determine if the town is charging too much for water usage. The town started charging new rates in April. Consumers who use the most water have been hit with significant increases.

The Basalt Town Council implemented the price hikes to pay for the drilling of a new well and construction of a state-mandated water filtration plant. The move was also made to encourage conservation.

Critics counter that the new rates are particularly hard on families and people with large lawns. Some critics contend that they were penalized by high fees even though they used less water than last year.

But some conservationists insist the higher rates are necessary to encourage further declines in water use.

The town always intended to review the water rates in early 2003 and see if adjustments were necessary, according to public services manager Bob Gish. The controversy spurred quicker review.

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Gish said he hopes that a balanced committee can be formed to find “middle ground” and advise the Town Council on a course of action before next spring, when water usage becomes an issue.

“We don’t want everybody in there from the bluegrass side or from the water conservation side,” he said.

A letter to prospective committee members by Gish indicated the filtration plant cost less than expected so it is possible rates could be lowered.

“Somewhere there is a balance that will meet the town’s needs without placing unfair burden on citizens,” Gish wrote. “The revised water billing rates, recommendations and approvals will be a compromise. All citizens will not be completely satisfied.

“While working as a public servant, I quickly learned that you cannot please all the people all the time,” Gish concluded.

The town staff will try to provide the citizens’ committee with data on average water consumption by various sizes of families, lawns and houses.

Basalt resident Matt Ferguson, a critic of the new water rates, said he and others will come to the meeting with their own data, such as a comparison of Basalt’s water rates to other towns. Basalt’s rates are higher, and Ferguson and other residents have demanded refunds.

Nevertheless, he said Thursday’s meeting is “definitely” a step in the right direction.

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

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