City Council discusses wildfire project funds
The Aspen Times
Members of the Aspen City Council offered differing views Monday on who they think should pay for the estimated $4.8 million upgrade to the town’s wildfire-mitigation system.
The council gave a thumbs up for the first $200,000, which covers final planning and design work for upgrades to hydrants, water pumps, water lines and water tanks on Red Mountain and East Aspen. Last summer, the council included in its top 10 goals the creation of a comprehensive wildfire-mitigation plan.
With final approval, the city would bond for the money up front on a 25-year amortization basis, and interest charges would ultimately dictate the total cost. Either the water utility would fund these costs through rate increases, or property owners would seek to establish a local improvement district.
The council discussed in-depth four different options for how to slice the estimated $4.8 million pie. There are 372 customer accounts in the Red Mountain and East Aspen neighborhoods, which have been identified as risk areas. The rest of the community makes up another 3,409 customer accounts.
The first option would divide the project’s cost evenly across all 3,781 customer accounts. The second and third options would mean Red Mountain and East Aspen residents pay a greater amount, with those 372 accounts shouldering either 51 percent or 75 percent of the cost. A fourth option, which was taken off the table almost immediately, would’ve meant Red Mountain and East Aspen residents foot the entire bill.
City Manager Steve Barwick said that ideally, construction would begin in spring 2015. An official request for approval will return to council at a later date, but members of the board offered input on where they stand.
Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Adam Frisch expressed interest in the 25-75 split, while Councilmen Art Daily and Dwayne Romero voiced support for the 49-51 split. Councilwoman Ann Mullins’ initial support was for the first option, where the entire cost is split evenly across all accounts.
“If there’s a fire, it affects everyone,” she said. “I think it’s a much cleaner, much fairer way to go, to charge across the board.”
Frisch used the example of Midwest residents living on the Mississippi River and Floridians living on the beach, saying those closest to risk areas should shoulder a greater cost. He added that he’s not sure if the split should be 49-51, 25-75 or somewhere in between.
“I’m kind of somewhere in between No. 2 and No. 3,” he said.
Skadron said that at first blush, he agreed with Mullins. But after further review, he changed his mind on how the cost should be distributed, considering where benefits lie with the improvements.
“Twenty-five percent-75 percent I think is the appropriate model we should use,” Skadron said. “The primary area of danger sits in these two areas, so I thought the primary burden should fall there.”
Romero said he supports the community-blended approach, with a 49-51 split, and Daily agreed.
“There is this concept that a defense against wildfire is a community-shared responsibility, so that’s the position that I come from,” he said, adding that there is engineering and capital-asset management logic to the position.
There are about 1,800 residents and more than $1.5 billion in property value for structures on Red Mountain and East Aspen. According to a memorandum to the council, 17 hydrants in the Red Mountain neighborhood and six hydrants in East Aspen neighborhoods produce inadequate fire-suppression flows. Also listed as a weakness is the dependency from water pumps on Holy Cross power lines, which would be threatened in a wildfire. Finally, undersized water pumps and undersized water lines — as well as insufficient water-storage capacity in East Aspen — round out the system’s listed deficiencies.
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