Water words change

New document different than one tabled July 9

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— When the City Council sees the Steamboat Springs Water Authority Agreement on Aug. 20, it will be a changed document from what was tabled July 9.

The negotiating team between the city and the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District has met three times to iron out details in the agreement since July 9.

During that meeting, residents and past City Council members raised objections to the document and helped convince the council to move the election to adopt the agreement to Nov. 5.

City Council President Kathy Connell, who is the lead negotiator for the city, described most of the document's changes as "word smithing."

"We are not trying to push and shove this through," Connell said. "We are trying to do something that is best for the community as a whole. And we are taking the window of opportunity to clean this up."

One of the most significant changes in the agreement will require a rate study for both the city and district areas before rates can increase.

The original document stated a rate study would occur only in the district and the city's rates could be increased without a study.

The agreement said the city's rates should be sufficient to pay for the operation, maintenance, reserves, debt service, additions, extensions and improvements of those services, including those required for the anticipated growth within the urban boundary.

Despite the change, former City Council president Bill Martin still has concerns.

Martin was one among the handful of former City Council members who spoke out against the agreement on July 9.

"I applaud Kathy for trying to reach a consolidation, but it's an incredibly difficult issue," Martin said.

Even though a rate study is required for both entities before rates can go up, Martin believes there is still no guarantee rates will eventually even out between the two entities.

"One of the city's main concerns is rate equalization and that is really the heart of the agreement. There is absolutely no reason why there should be two different costs for a city of 10,000," he said.

Right now, residential water users that consume 5,000 gallons a month in the Mount Werner District pay $5.37 less than city users, but the disparity increases for those using 40,000 gallons a month with the city users paying $93 more.

Since the July 9 meeting, Martin has met twice with Connell and Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner.

Martin would like to see a "drop dead date" for when the city and district's rates would have to be uniform.

He suggests a time frame of three to five years.

The revised water agreement will also have a preamble, Connell said, to make the intent of the document "perfectly clear."

Connell said the preamble would be available in time for the city's open house Thursday.

Connell would not comment on some of the details discussed during the negotiations but indicated there would be clarification on what power the water board does not hold.

"The water board does not have the power to deal with growth issues and to deal with the planning and policy. The city has that power and (the board) deals with the running of the day-to-day operations," Connell said.

Under the current wording, the city cannot enlarge the urban growth boundary without consultation and approval from the water board.

But Connell said the intent of the agreement is to let the authority decide on what impacts the new development would have on the authority and if the facilities could handle those impacts.

Despite these clarifications, Martin still believes an appointed board, which would at first have four of the seven members appointed by Mount Werner, would hold too much power.

"Whoever controls water controls growth," he said. "(The council) is giving away the power to respond to the constituents and they are giving that power to the appointed board," he said.

Martin, who was one of the first city negotiators in the early 1990s, said Mount Werner Water could follow the precedent of the three other water districts in town that dissolved, handed over their assets and had uniform rates with the city in the early '90s.

The council is scheduled to vote on the revised water authority agreement at its next meeting, Aug. 20.

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