Dewey and Janet Williams stand in front of the building they own at 427 Oak St. The Williams said steep increases in city tap fees could cripple local businesses, while city officials said the new rates went through a lengthy public process and are necessary to ensure city water supplies and infrastructure.

Photo by John F. Russell

Dewey and Janet Williams stand in front of the building they own at 427 Oak St. The Williams said steep increases in city tap fees could cripple local businesses, while city officials said the new rates went through a lengthy public process and are necessary to ensure city water supplies and infrastructure.

Tap fees cause sticker shock to Steamboat building owners

Residents criticize bill of more than $6,000; city cites water costs

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— Increased tap fees that caused little stir when approved in September drew an outcry from owners of a downtown building when the bill for a new business tenant came this spring.

“I was expecting to be ripped off about $3,000; instead, it was about $6,000, and I am very ticked,” said Janet Williams, who has owned the building at 427 Oak St. since the early 1970s with her husband, Dewey. “I think they’re trying to run business out of town.”

The building will house MountainBrew, the new location for a coffee shop and cafe owned by Al and Tasha Compos. The business formerly was Spill the Beans on 13th Street. The 427 Oak St. location is a green house on the Lincoln Avenue side of Oak Street in downtown Steamboat Springs. The house backs onto the Alpiner Lodge and housed some county offices from 1999 to 2008.

Janet and Dewey Williams said they’ve paid the city’s tap fee of $6,253, also described as a plant investment fee, to help the Composes continue working to open MountainBrew.

City Public Works Director Philo Shelton said the increased fees are necessary to fund expanded capacity for water and wastewater treatment, and to secure the city’s future water supply.

“We have to have a way to collect some money to allow for expansion and rehabilitation of these plants,” Shelton said. “I imagine there’s a bit of sticker shock, so to speak, from the increases people might have been accustomed to in the past.”

The 427 Oak St. bill is one of the first tangible outcomes of increased water rates, wastewater rates and tap fees that the Steamboat Springs City Council approved in September, to fund as much as $70 million in water-related improvement and repair projects the city could face in coming years.

The rate and fee increases were implemented in January.

The Steamboat Springs City Council gave initial approval May 3 to an $11.9 million loan, through bonds issued by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, to fund infrastructure projects during the next two to three years. Summer work includes an extensive replacement of a century-old sewer line and addition of a new storm sewer in the alley between Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue, from 10th Street to Fourth Street.

City Manager Jon Roberts said he “was a bit surprised by the amount” of the 427 Oak St. bill and asked Shelton and utilities engineer Jon Snyder to double-check their calculations.

Shelton said the figure is correct. Tap fees are calculated through a complex process involving the number of fixtures in a remodel or new project, water use and other factors.

“When these remodels come in, they count every fixture that’s in the permit,” Shelton said. “The plant investment fee is a dollar amount per fixture point.”

He said a commercial sink, for example, has more fixture costs than a hand sink in a home.

“It varies on which project is being done,” Shelton said about tap fee amounts. “The fixture fees have gone up this year, essentially about doubled from before.

“The largest piece for (MountainBrew) was the restaurant seats,” he continued. “That was the biggest change in use that added to the plant investment fee.”

Long-term challenges

The water bill increases are on top of 50 percent rate increases that took effect in 2009.

Those increases were put in place after city officials acknowledged in November 2008 that the water and wastewater funds had dipped dangerously low. Reasons for the low funds included the city’s failure to increase water rates in the previous 15 years, as well as the habit of using tap fees that should have gone toward capital reserves to instead subsidize the city’s operating budget.

Shelton said a portion of tap fees also help the city secure and enhance its water rights.

“That’s the portion of the plant investment fee that went up the most,” he said.

The city is incurring legal, accounting and construction costs, for example, for a plan to release additional water from Stagecoach Reservoir into a municipal well on the city’s south side.

“Right now, we have water sitting in Stagecoach that we can’t use until we implement this plan,” Shelton said.

He said the city also is paying $175,000 to the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District this year for a recent expansion of Fish Creek Reservoir.

“Our plant investment fee would go toward that purpose,” Shelton said.

Roberts said although tap fees might seem steep, a future shortage of water could be much more detrimental to local economic development than increased bills.

“I think the issue of protecting the long-term water rights of the city of Steamboat is a critical consideration,” he said.

The city has a total of about 100 water rights from flows on creeks, small hot springs, Yampa River tributaries and more, according to Boulder-based water counsel Fritz Holleman.

Those uses could provide little solace to Dewey and Janet Williams, though, who said the heavy bill increases could cripple local businesses and new development.

“The town can’t survive on this kind of stuff,” Dewey said about their bill.

Janet said other local property owners should be aware of potential renovation or construction costs from the tap fee increases.

“I may not get a dime back, but other people ought to know what they’re facing,” she said.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

Tap fees like that are a complete rip off based upon complete speculation of water usage. So if they install extreme water saving equipment and use very little water then it does not matter, they still get charged as if their usage caused the entire system to nearly run out of spare capacity.

These sort of tap fees benefit people who know how to present plans showing the smallest impact, get inspected and then a few months later add the stuff that would have cost them so much more.

It would make so much more sense to simply charge an extra "new customer system impact fee" per gallon usage fee for 5 or so years. So new users would pay their actual impact onto the system, not some guess of what they might use.

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weststmbtres 3 years, 4 months ago

I agree. Charging tap fees based on the number of faucets and toilets is ridiculous. The city still meters the amount of water used. Just because an extra toilet or faucet is added for convenience doesn't mean the property is going to use more water. Rates should be charged according to usage not according to speculation.

My only real experience with the issue was with a residential application when I lived in the Vail Valley 20 some odd years ago. A friend of mine applied for a permit to add a half bathroom on the main level of the 3 level duplex he lived in. The place had two bathrooms upstairs and one downstairs. Taking my friends affinity for beer into account he was constantly running up and down the stairs to use the bathroom. The tap fees cost half as much as the remodel and the addition of the bathroom didn't increase the amount of water being used one bit.

It was a bachelor pad and he in fact wanted to install a urinal since that would use even less water and take up less space. However, the building dept. told him it was not in the residential rules and urinals were only approved for use in commercial applications.

God forbid he ever wanted to sell the place to a family with a urinal in a half bath beside the laundry room. Doing something that saves water but devalues your property is a whole other issue ;o)

Anyway, the long and short of it was the building department denied his request to do something that would actually reduce water usage but still charged him the tap fees based entirely on the speculation that more water was going to be used which was not the case. It didn't matter if he peed upstairs or downstairs or in the new bathroom. The same amount of flushes still occured regardless.

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pitpoodle 3 years, 4 months ago

This article is incorrect. An FOI request showed that water rates were increased four times in the recent past, prior to 2009. The low funds were a result of City Council using tap fee capital reserves for the city's operating budget for years on end. Period. Isn't the same thing happening again with water income being used for legal and accounting costs for the Stagecoach Reservoir project? It appears that over-spending or incorrect use of taxes and fees has been the problem not the amount actually collected.
These increases say to Steamboat businesses and construction in general: Pull back, don't expand because you won't be able to afford it. Let's just kill all incentive to bring back the economy in Steamboat. Brilliant.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

Unfortunately, this article increases the Williams' sense of injury by misplacing the blame for the fund shortages. The fund dried up because tap fees were undercharged for many years.

The "little stir when approved in September" was me. At least I was the only one to complain at that hearing. According to my September phone conversation with the consultant, and also city council comments, tap fees were too low for many years. And since you can't rob the next contractor to pay for the previous contractor's shortages, we users will pick up the slack in user fees. The September spreadsheets and cost allocations made it very clear, the new tap fees are strictly used for only the infrastructure needs of future growth. Water use fees cover everything else.

So tap fees are roughly doubled from their 2007 rate and will rise with the CPI going forward. Meanwhile water user fees are scheduled in coming years to triple from their 2007 rate. If you think the tap fees are rising too much, just know the users' water bills will rise even more.

They may cure some of this rise by curing water infiltration into the upstream pipes, thus reducing overall capacity needs, but that is yet to be proven.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

Correction: The fund (also) dried up because tap fees were undercharged for many years.

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housepoor 3 years, 4 months ago

They were financing thier operations on growth, when the growth stopped and things got tight they asked existing customers to bend over. What I would like to know why there is no reprocussions for poor management?

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sledneck 3 years, 4 months ago

House, If there were repercussions for poor management there would be almost no government. Ahhh, what a wonderful concept... repercussions... OHALA.

Lewi, No such thing as government "undercharging". No such thing.

Government does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. It needs more revenue like Charlie Sheen needs more cocaine.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

No sewer plant....

Can I borrow some paper from your clipboard?

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sledneck 3 years, 4 months ago

Lewi, I would venture to say that if we scrapped all government and started out just with a list of priorities from A to Z that sewer and water would be somewhere near the top of the list, no?

Furthermore, if we stopped trying to be " all things to all people" and cut the list off at e or f or g instead of trying to fund, through government, the entire list all the way to "Z" then there would be MORE THAN AMPLE RESOURCES for water, sewer, schools, roads, etc.

Our problem is that we piss away sewer money (no pun intended) on emerald mts and iron horses and then have the audacity to act like we are somehow suprised when the toilet won't flush!

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