Policy switched in water fight

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— The tides are turning in the wastewater treatment business.

Although Mount Werner Water had been sending the city about 10 percent of the sewer tap fees it collected in the Mount Werner district, the city has decided to start collecting the fees itself and will possibly give about 10 to 15 percent back to Mount Werner.

The policy switch comes after disputes over the correct level of payments by Mount Werner for the expansion of the city-owned wastewater treatment plant led to some consumers getting charged twice for sewer services. Negotiations currently under way will put a stop to the extra payments, say city officials.

Mount Werner serves the area roughly south and east of Fish Creek Falls Road, with the rest of the city being served by the city of Steamboat Springs. Residents and businesses in Steamboat pay for water and wastewater services in two ways. Monthly water bills pay for water and sewer operations costs. Tap fees, on the other hand, require a one-time payment, collected when a new development comes to the city for a building permit and has to get hooked up to the water and sewer systems. Sewer tap fees for a unit in a condominium complex, for instance, can come to about $1,000, said Mount Werner Water Manager Dan Birch.

Tap fees go toward capital construction needs such as the cost of the plant expansion and sewer line maintenance. The city claims Mount Werner's payments toward the plant expansion have been insufficient. The city is asking Mount Werner for $705,000 from its sewer tap fees from 2000, whereas Mount Werner had sent in a check for just $75,000. Now the two groups are negotiating a payment that may end up being in between the two numbers with the city in control of collecting the payments.

"The plant being expanded and it needs to be expanded the funds that are currently being collected are clearly not adequate. What the agreement says is if the funds are inadequate the groups will negotiate to decide what's fair and reasonable," Birch said.

The city decided it wants to collect the full tap fee for Mount Werner customers and remit a portion of that to Mount Werner. Before this February, Mount Werner had been collecting tap fees and remitting a portion of those fees to the city.

That portion, however, was deemed too small by the city, which is attempting to fund the $11 million plant expansion with tap fees.

While the groups were quarreling over the amount of the payment, consumers in the Mount Werner district were being asked to pay almost 30 percent more in tap fees than they used to pay. Developers had to pay both the city and Mount Werner to be hooked up to the sewer system, instead of simply paying one entity.

The city was asking for the full tap fee for its plant expansion and Mount Werner was taking 28 percent more for upkeep of its sewer lines. For developers like Craig Rathbun that meant about $2,300 more in development costs.

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