Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Steamboat Springs A focus group that is working on consolidating the city and Mount Werner water districts met for the first time last week.
After the Steamboat Springs Water Authority Agreement failed at the polls in November, the City Council asked the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District Board to continue negotiations and put a focus group in place. The group is made up of those who would have served on the Water Authority Board, plus City Manager Paul Hughes and Mount Werner Water Manager Bob Stoddard.
In early October, the council appointed three members, Paul Stettner, Nancy Mayer and Bill Martin, to the board. The Mount Werner Board appointed four members, John Fetcher and current board members Joe Brennan, Tim Borden and Mark McElhinney.
Martin called the first hour-long focus group meeting positive.
The group looked at what went wrong in the November election, he said, and identified three main factors in the water authority's failure: voters in the Mount Werner Water District were afraid rates would rise, Old Town residents were concerned rates would never be equal and voters were skeptical about the power of the proposed Water Authority.
"One of the things that makes it really awkward is this is for the town, we are all members of the town, yet for this specific discussion, the discussion is between Old Town and Mount Werner," Martin said.
Martin said the group decided not to look at the past but move forward.
"The council wanted us to sit down at the table and see if there is common ground we could go forward on," he said.
The group's ideas on how to bring the two entities together are still in the incubation period, Martin said, but the group did ask staff to provide it with a list of what assets belong to the city and what is owned by the district.
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 the city and the district.
Martin said the group would also look at the Steamboat Water System, which was formed in 1996 and housed the two entities under one roof. It dissolved in 1999.
The water consolidation agreement that came before voters in November represented more than 10 years of negotiations between the city and Mount Werner Water.
But opponents of the 2002 agreement said 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's board, which in its first years would have three members appointed from the council and four members appointed from the Mount Werner Water Board. And they said that board had little accountability to the people.
Those who negotiated and supported the agreement said without consolidation, equalization would never occur between the two water entities.
The city said consolidation would mean it would not have to expand its maintenance building, which is expected to cost $285,000.
In December, water rates increased for the city.
The next focus group meeting will be held Feb. 5.