Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Who should control growth in the midvalley area? The Mid Valley Metropolitan District (MVMD), a water and sewer provider, is apparently willing, given its cautionary warning against Basalt’s growth policies.
“The MVMD board is very concerned about the financial implications to the district over time should the town of Basalt continue to deny responsible growth and development.”
The district apparently knows what “responsible growth” should be, charging that Basalt’s growth policies “display a lack of concern” for financial impacts and that the town’s position on growth is “inconsistent with the attitude of the majority of residents” living outside the town’s limits, but within the El Jebel/midvalley areas.
This scold was issued by the MVMD manager at a recent hearing for Ace Lane’s El Jebel “Tree Farm” development, a huge growth driver that is being eyed warily by Basalt, and for good reason. Given the existing congestion in El Jebel, it is obvious that Lane’s development will only add high density and more traffic volume.
At the hearing, the MVMD stated that it needs 50 new tap fees per year to break even. Then came the veiled warning regarding Basalt’s growth policy: “It means the district is potentially going to be in disrepair … or that service fees are going to have to go up significantly.”
The blunt message is that unless there is sufficient growth, as determined by the MVMD, either the system will break down or rising operating costs for water and sewer will be spread among current customers.
The tail wags the dog when a non-political board attempts to influence (and not at all diplomatically) growth quotas in the midvalley. This is what happens when sewer and water districts err on growth projections that determine their infrastructure funding.
Special districts are challenged to predict demand on unknown criteria, like the state of the economy and the will of the electorate. The MVMD now finds itself dependent on a bottom line of 50 tap fees worth of growth each year in order to avoid reduced services or escalating fees for its customers.
Growth rarely pays it own way. That’s why hikes in service costs for new growth often burden existing residents, a percentage of whom live on fixed incomes. Given the current economic downturn, any hike in sewer and water fees is going to be tough on MVMD customers.
As drivers of growth, developers sometimes profit at the expense of existing residents, who shoulder the costs of that growth. Tap fees are only one indicator, but so are schools, social services, public safety, health care, traffic congestion, water and air quality, all of which determine the quality of life most residents say they appreciate in the midvalley.
The fact that the MVMD would try to coerce the town of Basalt into what it deems “responsible” growth in order to satisfy its errant growth projections compromises the democratic process. Not only should the MVMD not influence the town’s planning goals, it should strictly avoid political manipulation by leveraging high service fees on its customers, or the implied threat of it.
The Mid Valley Metropolitan District should be working in harmony with Basalt’s planning goals, not against them. For starters, tap fees for new growth should more accurately reflect infrastructure costs, and developers should pay them up front. It’s only fair that growth should pay its own way.
Ace Lane’s Tree Farm development should not be viewed as a panacea to bail out the MVMD, while forcing excessive growth on Basalt, El Jebel and the midvalley. Under that scenario, the tail wags the dog, and everyone pays a high price.
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