Hayden After weeks of discussion over raising water rates, the Hayden Town Board was poised to finalize a five-year accelerated rate plan at Thursday night's meeting, but an outpouring of concern from town residents left board members pensive about making a decision.
The board agreed to "keep an open mind," Trustee Ken Gibbons said. "This is a big issue."
The discussion will continue at the next board meeting.
The main contention among those in attendance was the board's decision to raise key pump users' base rate from $5 to $25 per month.
Lana McFadden presented a list of her own concerns about the issue and read quotes she collected from other pump users.
The key pump is used mostly by homeowners who live outside the town limits out of reach of Hayden's water and sewer system.
"I feel, as do those who live within a 12-mile radius, that we are members of this community," she said. "The increase in the base rate from $5 to $25 is unaffordable. It is astronomically inappropriate.
"This increase unfairly targets the minority," she said.
Town Clerk Lisa Johnston assured her that water usage rates will actually go down for key pump users under the new system even though the base rate will go up.
Originally, the issue arose as the board reviewed the 2003 budget. Because water rates have not been raised in 10 years, the water utility has operated in the red for almost as many years.
Board members decided it could not continue.
At the Jan. 2 meeting, the board voted to raise rates over five years.
Rates will increase 5.5 percent each year, a figure that includes inflation and rising operating expenses.
The rate structure is divided according to how much water is used.
"The more you use, the more you pay," Town Manager Rob Straebel said. Rates are separated by three tiers of usage to promote conservation. In the first year of the proposed rate schedule, residents will be charged $0.70 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons. The next 6,000 gallons will cost $0.80 per 1,000 gallons. Any water used after 12,000 gallons will cost $1 per 1,000 gallons.
"Last year we had some pretty dire consequences because of a shortage of water," Straebel said. "There was a call on the river and we had to limit residents' usage."
Beyond raising water rates in a way that encourages conservation, the town's secondary goal is to find the source of water lost within the town's system.
"There is a marked difference between the amount of water we meter at the plant and the amount that is metered from people's homes," Straebel said. "How that happens is a $64,000 question."
Straebel estimated a 24 percent average water loss in any given month.
"The national average is between 12 and 15 percent," he said.
Part of the loss is because of unmetered usage. Eleven people in town are not metered and 16 people have broken meters -- a fact the Public Works Department is working to remedy, Straebel said.
Straebel hopes to write a grant to hire a consultant who would explore where that loss occurs, he said.
In the meantime, the board has approved, at a previous meeting, an increase of $1.80 in the base rate of resident water users. Residents will now pay $15.95 per month and seniors will pay $10.29.
In other business, the board discussed the wording of a request for proposals for an impact study that would examine the impacts of the Sunburst Ranch development on the town of Hayden.
The board asked the partners of 4S Development to pay for an impact study before it would go forward with approval of the group's proposal to build a 902-acre subdivision.
The RFP was first drafted by Straebel, and then reviewed by the developer's consultant, Peter Patten, who made several suggestions.
The RFP then went before the Hayden Planning Commission, which also made several suggestions to changes.
According to the current draft of the RFP, the impact study will examine the fiscal impacts on the school district, the adequacy of Hayden's water and sewer infrastructure to support the development, the amount of water that will be needed for the subdivision and the effect on Hayden's street network.
The RFP also asked 4S Development to examine the impacts of subdividing the land currently in Routt County into 35-acre parcels instead of following the group's current plan of pursuing and annexing that land.
The main piece of contention between Patten and Straebel was the town manager's request for an examination of the "social impacts" of the development on the Hayden community.
Patten argued the concept was more philosophical than tangible and would be not only difficult to address but expensive.
The two men agreed to come to a solution privately and move forward with sending out the RFP.
4S partner Tom Fox asked that the developers be allowed to sit in on the committee that would choose the consultant as nonvoting members. The board agreed.
Gibbons asked Patten how much he and his clients were willing to spend on the impact study.
Patten estimated anywhere up to $60,000.
"You are prepared to invest that kind of money even though this might not turn out in the end?" Gibbons asked.
"We know there is a risk," Fox said. "And we know that you have to spend money to get up to bat, but we know that we need this impact study.
"We hope it comes out positive," he said. "If it doesn't, then this is probably something we don't want to do anyway."
His only request, he said, "is that we are treated as fairly as possible."