Sewer districts raise stink over Basalt growth control
July 7, 2009
BASALT – Basalt officials anticipated stuff might hit the fan when they approved tough new growth controls earlier this year, but not quite in the way it has unfolded.
Officials from both the Basalt and midvalley sewer districts have criticized the Town Council for clamping down on growth. They claim the town is choking a prime source of income by limiting growth because they won’t collect as many fees for new service. As a result, existing customers could end up paying higher monthly service bills.
Mid Valley Metropolitan District (MVMD) board of directors president Robert Clark delivered a blistering criticism of the Town Council’s policies at a recent public hearing held by the Eagle County commissioners on Ace Lane’s development proposal in El Jebel. Basalt is against approval of the project by the county and wants to force Lane to apply to the town. The metro district supports Lane’s request for 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space.
“If the town becomes the reviewing entity [of Lane’s proposal], the MVMD Board is very concerned about the financial implications to the district over time should the town continue to deny responsible growth and development,” Clark read from a prepared statement.
The Town Council adopted new growth control measures in April that limit the annual approvals for free-market residences to 32 per year. Developers have to complete for those approvals. Employee housing is exempt.
“The town’s policies are not adaptable to economic conditions and display a lack of concern regarding the financial impact on essential service providers,” Clark said. “Moreover, the MVMD board considers the present Town Council’s position on growth to be inconsistent with the attitude of the majority of residents outside of the town limits in the El Jebel/midvalley areas.”
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Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said he was “shocked” by the way MVMD came out with its position – tough language in a public hearing. The district’s board of directors didn’t express their concerns to the council prior to that hearing, he said.
“I can see in a way that it affects them, but they’re not in the land-use business. They’re in the water and sewer business,” Duroux said. Without new growth, the sanitation districts face less pressure for expansion.
The MVMD provides water and sewer service to Blue Lake, Summits Vista, Willits and the homes and businesses along Willits Lane.
Basalt Sanitation District – which provides sewer service to old town Basalt, Southside and the Roaring Fork Club – voiced similar concerns about Basalt’s direction. District Manager Denise Diers attended a public hearing last spring urging the Town Council to reconsider its tough stance on growth. Diers said Monday the district is very small and depends on fees for new service to raise funds for capital improvement projects to the existing infrastructure. Many of the sewer lines in old town Basalt were installed in the 1960s and need replacement. Funds raised through new service are dedicated to that type of work, she said.
“We need about 50 tap fees per year to break even on our capital,” Diers said.
If that funding source disappears, it will create and either-or situation for the district. “It means the district is potentially going to be in disrepair … or that service fees are going to have to go up significantly,” Diers said.
Basalt’s charge for sanitation service is already slightly above average in Colorado at $31 per month, Diers said.
The sewer districts are already dealing with slow activity. Basalt had a moratorium on new development in place from June 2008 until June 2009. The recession also curtailed development. Now, the brakes will be on permanently.
When Diers expressed her concerns to the council, members of the board questioned if the sanitation district’s business model should depend on growth – or, in another way of looking at it, if the community should grow to satisfy that business model.
Councilman Chris Seldin said Monday that Basalt voters have stated clearly that they want a policy of “slow and smart” growth.
“Candidates with these views won the last two elections by wide margins,” Seldin said. “It’s unfortunate if this community vision impacts the districts’ business models, but the town’s policy needs to prioritize this clear charge from the voters.”
Duroux said he didn’t anticipate further talks between the council and the sewer districts on the topic.