Water Authority goes down

Voters choose not to consolidate districts

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— Voters on Tuesday rejected a plan to consolidate the city and Mount Werner water districts, creating the Steamboat Springs Water Authority.

With six of the eight city precincts reporting, 1,074 people had voted against Referendum 2C while 771 had voted for it.

Former City Councilman Jim Engelken campaigned against the agreement and was pleased with Tuesday's results.

"I am relieved it is going to fail," Engelken said. "I am sorry it had to come to this, that we had to oppose it. I think the council made a mistake. I am really happy voters spent both the time and energy and realized it was a bad deal."

The water consolidation agreement that came before the voters represented more than 10 years of negotiations between the city and Mount Werner Water.

"It is very sad," said City Council President Kathy Connell, who helped negotiate the agreement. "The damage has been done. Mount Werner worked with us for years. How do we bring Mount Werner back to the table, especially when we have these kinds of personal attacks?"

Downtown voting Precincts 1, 2 and 3 voted overwhelmingly against the consolidation. Voters in Precinct 4, which is in the city, and Precinct 5, which includes Mount Werner and is in the district, approved the water authority. Precinct 6, also in the district, voted against the agreement with 227 votes to 131 votes.

At first glance the city consolidating with Mount Werner seemed like an easy call. The two entities share three reservoirs and both mainly process their water through the Fish Creek Filtration Plant. And the city-owned wastewater treatment plant collects sewage from both entities. But opponents of the agreement said that wording in the consolidation agreement would forever make the downtown rates higher than those in the district.

They also said it gave too much power to the authority board, which was initially formed with three members appointed from the council and four members appointed from the Mount Werner Water board. Critics said the board had little accountability to the people.

"The language was the major concern," said former City Council President Kevin Bennett, one of the biggest critics of the plan. "The language in the charter is extremely important. It isn't the people. It is what is written in the charter years to come."

Those who negotiated and supported the agreement said that without consolidation, rate equalization would never occur between the two water entities. With the failure of the issue, Connell said the city will have to raise water and sewer rates.

Looking back to the election, Connell said she wished there was a way to get to more voters.

"How do we reach out to the community?" she asked. "We have tried town meetings and people didn't show up. We have tried to go and talk to people and have gotten challenged. It is not clear on how we can reach people."

She also said the vote might not be what the community wants.

"So many people who own businesses or own property cannot vote in Steamboat," she said. "This may not be indicative of what the total community wants and needs."

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