Scott Wedel: Oak Creek water fees
September 5, 2013
On Aug. 22, the Oak Creek Town Board passed a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment stating that "corporations, associations and labor unions are not entitled to the constitutional protections or 'rights' of natural persons and that money is not speech" with Trustee Bernard Gagne casting the only "no" vote. The Town Board has time to consider and recommend a proposal that would end freedom of the press for newspapers owned by corporations and would allow government to regulate a newspaper's spending on distribution. In the context of our Founding Fathers, the Town Board is stating that Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine have no right to spend money to distribute the pamphlets so that the public might read them. Town Board members freely stated that they weren't constitutional experts and yet felt the need to recommend sweeping constitutional changes.
Meanwhile, Rome burns as they fiddle. About six years ago, a state official stated his surprise that Oak Creek didn't have water meters on commercial accounts — that he had never encountered a water district without water meters on commercial accounts. The town of Oak Creek still has yet to come up with a commercial rate plan like every other water district in Colorado. Their arbitrary rates unrelated to water are why a car wash and a laundromat are closed to the public.
On Aug. 23, I emailed the town clerk a request for public records under Colorado's open records act. I requested basic information about number of installed commercial water meters, have they been read, how much water in total is consumed by commercial accounts and how much potable water is produced by the water plant. I received an immediate email response confirming receipt of the request. In open defiance of the CORA statute, the town has neither answered the questions or stated why they won't answer. Their non-answer shows how little progress they have made on the most basic issues of water utility management.
What the town government is doing is taking more money out of the utility enterprises than the town collects in sales and property taxes combined. The utilities reimburse the town for all monetary expenses such as labor, materials, use of town hall and debatable expenses such as the electricity enterprise paying a portion of the road grader. They haven't put an utility tax on the ballot because the Town Board doesn't think voters would approve of increased taxes. They use a loophole in TABOR by calling them fees.
The town government sets the amount of these fees to what the utilities "can bear." They said the electric utility can bear more than $100,000, but it cannot bear the cost of proper line voltage regulators or a generator that automatically turns on. I've even seen 40 or 90 volts on a voltmeter for extended periods of time. That improper voltage burns out electric motors and compressors. A proper electric utility has automated equipment that cuts power when voltage is out of range. They lack the equipment to have to seamlessly switch over when the substation is not functioning properly. It is a third-world electric system. That is the cost of taking out so much money from the electricity enterprise.
Similarly, the water enterprise has not fixed a fire hydrant for 10 months at South Sharp Avenue and Nancy Crawford Boulevard. A water enterprise already paying all that it can bear to the town's general fund doesn't have the money to fix problems.
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The Oak Creek Town Board should concern itself with basic issues of town government. It should stop taking money from the utilities. It should leave the money in the utilities to perform needed maintenance.
Oak Creek property owner