Officials to discuss water fees

Stagecoach could see septic vault program eliminated

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What: Routt County Board of Commissioners discussion with the Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District regarding increased tap fees

When: 2 to 3 p.m. today

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.

— Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District officials will meet with the Routt County Board of Commissioners today to discuss its 375 percent increase in tap fees.

The board has no authority over the district, which serves Stagecoach, but commissioners said they requested the meeting to provide a public forum to discuss the fee increase, which has angered some owners of unimproved lots and was officially opposed by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors on Monday. Citing the age of its water and wastewater plant, the district's board approved an increase in tap fees from $8,000 to $30,000 beginning this year.

Crystal Staepel, of Anchor Realty, said she plans to attend the meeting and better understand why such a big increase was necessary, but she also hopes the discussion will ultimately lead to some changes.

"I don't understand. And I think that's where most people are," Staepel said. "I don't think $30,000 is reasonable at all in this area. : Nobody's going to tap on to : the system out here at that price, and that's obviously not going to help the finances of the water board."

Staepel and Stagecoach developer Ren Martyn, of Mountain Valley Communities, said there was not enough public involvement in the decision to increase tap fees. Martyn said that if lot owners had known about the increase, many of them would have prepaid their tap fees before the end of 2008 to beat it, resulting in an immediate windfall for the water district. District Manager Steve Colby, however, said the high number of lots, 262, with low, prepaid tap fees was one of the reasons for the fee increase.

The Board of Realtors opposes the tap fee increase for several reasons. Government Affairs Director Sarah Thorsteinson wrote that the increase was not "publicly vetted," is not being applied equally because some have prepaid their tap fees, and does not require existing users to contribute to the cost of a new plant.

Septic vaults

Although it is not a planned topic of discussion today, the water district also is considering a plan that would cap the number of new septic vaults allowed in Stagecoach at 30 and disallow them after 2011, a move that could further complicate lot sales in the bedroom community 20 miles south of Steamboat Springs.

District President Donald Alperti said the district's existing agreement with Routt County allows for as many as 650 septic vaults. Colby said there are about 80 vaults now and that they already are stressing the district because they "shock load" the wastewater treatment plant when they are emptied and trucked in.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said allowing septic vaults - which differ from typical septic systems because they store all wastewater products rather than dispersing them through a leach field - was a temporary compromise to allow some development to take place beyond the confines of the district's central water and sewer lines. If they are not allowed, lot owners would have to wait until sewer lines are extended or consolidate lots into a parcel at least 5 acres large, the minimum size the county requires to allow a leach field.

Staepel said she agrees that the vaults ultimately need to be eliminated, but she said the district board should assist the property owners in moving toward an alternative, for example, by assisting in the creation of a local improvement district to fund an extension of the sewer lines. Combined with the tap fee increase, Martyn said the district board seems to be trying to discourage development in Stagecoach.

"It smells like a no-growth policy to me," he said.

Alperti said the proposed amendment to the vault agreement is not finalized and is still subject to a "major" public hearing that the district will send notice of to all of its 1,500 members.

The proposed amendment is a scheduled agenda item for the district's board meeting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the offices of Sharp, Steinke, Sherman and Engle, 401 Lincoln Ave.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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