Hayden passes 1st reading of utility rate increase

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— The Hayden Town Council voted, 4-1, on Thursday night to approve the first reading of an ordinance that next year would raise monthly water rates in Hayden by 71 percent and sewer rates by 29 percent.

Council member Dallas Robinson, the only dissenting vote, said instead of increasing the utility rates on Hayden residents, the town should cut more from its own budget.

“I think there are other places to get this money,” he said in the middle of a lengthy speech opposing the rate increases that resulted in applause from community members in Town Hall. “We’ve been elected because people believe in our creativity, and I think there are other places we can get this money. Increasing these rates is the easy way out.”

If the council approves the ordinance after a Dec. 13 public hearing, water and sewer customers in Hayden will see their base water rate increase by $19.06 to $45.62 per month and sewer rates increase by $3.20 to $15.20 per month starting Jan. 1.

Hayden Town Manager David Torgler said that the water and sewer operations in Hayden require subsidies from the town’s general fund to operate and that the proposed rate increases will allow the enterprise fund to sustain itself financially and give the public works department a chance to spend more on needed capital projects such as street repairs. He said the proposed rate increases are the second phase of a two-phase rate increase the town approved in 2010 to eliminate the budget shortfalls from the operation of the utilities.

Hayden last year increased its water rates 40 percent from $19 to $26.60 and its sewer rates nearly 100 percent from $6.06 to $12 to start lowering those shortfalls.

“In order for these funds to be self-sustaining, these user fees need to be adjusted,” Torgler said.

Council members in favor of the rate increases said there are costly projects the town has passed over because of the shortfalls created by the utilities.

Specifically, Torgler said Wednesday that the water rate increase would allow the town to spend about $208,000 on capital projects that include street and road maintenance. He said the increased sewer rates will generate revenue toward a $550,000 state-mandated project that will redirect the town’s sewer treatment plant outfall pipe from Dry Creek to the Yampa River.

Public opposition

The first reading of the ordinance Thursday night brought 15 residents to Town Hall, six of whom took to the podium to ask the Town Council to reconsider the rate increases.

“I know you’re in a jam, but I don’t think the right avenue is to pass this (shortfall) on for us to pay,” Hayden resident Steve Znamenacek said.

Citing water rates in other Western Slope communities, Znamenacek said the proposed rate increases would force residents in Hayden to pay the most for water out of all the communities in the Yampa River basin.

Oak Creek residents pay a flat rate of $46 per month for water and $47.23 for sewer, according to deputy town clerk Vivian Johnson. The base water rate in Steamboat Springs this year is $17.12 per month, and the base sewer rate is $29.25.

Council member Tim Redmond said the proposed rate increase he supported Thursday was painful but necessary.

“I know there are people in this town on fixed incomes, and it hurts to sit here and have to consider this,” he said. “It’s tough. But the truth is we gotta do what’s right for the town.”

The opposition to the ordinance prompted Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins to call for a series of three additional budget workshops, the first of which will convene Sunday. He invited Robinson and other community members to propose and identify parts of Hayden’s budget that could be cut next year to eliminate or shrink the proposed rate increases.

Council member Bill Hayden and Mayor Pro-Tem Lorraine Johnson were not at Thursday’s meeting.

The ordinance raising the utility rates will come up for a second reading Dec. 13 following a public hearing.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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