Water rate hike takes effect for Steamboat customers | SteamboatToday.com

Water rate hike takes effect for Steamboat customers

This month marks beginning of second of three straight years of increases

Jack Weinstein

— Water and sewer rates are increasing, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to city of Steamboat Springs customers.

This month marks the start of the second year of a three-year rate increase schedule intended raise money for improvements to Steamboat's water and sewer system infrastructure.

About $70 million in infrastructure improvements have been identified as part of the water and sewer master plan over the next dozen years, Public Works Director Philo Shelton said.

"All that is to get our system current and maintainable," he said.

Both water and sewer base rates are increasing for residential and commercial customers. The base rate increases are from $17.12 to $19.43 (13.5 percent) for residential water; from $29.25 to $31.26 (6.9 percent) for residential sewer; from $20.50 to $21.59 (5.3 percent) for commercial water; and from $24.65 to $25.53 (3.6 percent) for commercial sewer.

Water volume rates — a tiered system that assesses a cost per 1,000 gallons of water used — also have increased for residential customers. There was no change for commercial customers. There were also water and sewer rate increases for mixed-use properties; those changes are identical to the commercial rate increases.

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The rate increases will be reflected in February water and sewer bills.

The increases are based on a 2010 rate study, part of an assessment of the city's water and sewer infrastructure by Red Oak Consulting, a division of the national environmental engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie, Shelton said. At the time, he said the proposed rate increases were compared to other similar cities and towns.

"We fall about in the middle of other mountain communities," Shelton said.

He said a new rate study to assess whether future rate increases would be necessary will be conducted after additional 2013 rate hikes take effect.

Shelton said the three-year rate increases will pay back the $11.9 million in bonds issued last year by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

He said the bonds already have paid for replacing century-old clay sanitary sewer pipes and installing a new storm sewer from 10th Street to Fourth Street in the alley between Lincoln and Oak streets last summer and a water line replacement at 13th Street this past fall.

Shelton added that the bond funding would pay for upgrades to the city's wastewater treatment plan, a 1-million-gallon water storage tank for west Steamboat, and various water and sewer line replacement projects throughout the city, many of which will go out to bid soon.

The city also enacted 50 percent rate increases 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 previously has said that a portion of tap fees also help the city secure and enhance its water rights.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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