Utility bills to rise in town of Crested Butte

Look for 13% increase

In an effort to play catch-up, the Crested Butte Town Council agreed Monday to raise water and sewer bills for residents in town. Thirteen percent of a requested 24 percent increase will go into effect this year.

 

 

 
The base rate for water in Crested Butte is increasing from $17.50 to $20 per EQR. EQR stands for Equivilant Residential Use, or 8,000 gallons.  The flat rate for sewer is increasing from $26.50/EQR to $30. According to the town, it equates to a $72 annual increase for a typical home smaller than 1,875 square feet. The biggest commercial user in town uses just over 20 EQRs and would see an increase of about $1,500 per year. These increases will take effect January 1.
According to a staff memo, the rate increases are necessary “as we are no longer covering depreciation expense with our fees. We are covering our actual out of pocket expenses, but we have fallen behind in capturing depreciation expenses. We need to act proactively at this time to keep from getting into financial trouble down the road.”
Town public works director Rodney Due and town finance director Lois Rozman made the case that the projected amount of increase needed would amount to a 24 percent rate hike.
They suggested implementing the 13.6 percent increase this year and another 10 percent increase next year.
The water and sewer budget also contains a request for another employee to “float” between the water and the sewer departments. Currently each division has two full-time employees. Due told the council the departments were understaffed and in the long run that would cost the town.
“The town is reactive instead of proactive,” he said. “Having one more person in water and waste water could prevent or defer higher capital costs in the future. We are looking for ways to reduce costs and make the system we have last longer. We can’t even do preventive maintenance right now.”
Councilman Skip Berkshire saw the wisdom in the argument. “I think this is smart and necessary,” he said. “But it is also essential to take care of the things we need now. Be mindful that the capital projects won’t be cheaper two or three or five years from now. Ultimately you always pay the piper.”
“That’s all true,” said Due. “But we need this other body just to have the time to inspect our system. Without the fifth person I can’t even tell you for sure what we need to do. I do know one thing for sure and that is the need to be monitoring the grease traps in town restaurants, for example. They can really hurt the system if abused.”
Councilman Dan Escalante wanted to make sure that the town was taking care of essential services before things like parks and recreation improvements. “We all understand the need for clean water to be coming out of the pipes. These types of needs should be the priority,” he said.
Rozman explained that water and sewer expenses were covered from a separate “enterprise” fund and did not share the same money that was used in parks and rec.
Berkshire and councilwoman Leah Williams wanted to make sure that grease traps in restaurants were monitored so that the town’s pipes didn’t clog up.
“This is definitely a priority,” said mayor Alan Bernholtz. “It is where we should be spending our money. We need to take care of what we own and continue to keep our community a healthy community.”
Due said a new fee for septic dumping will be implemented in Crested Butte and $3,700 from water and sewer will be spent on green energy for the water and sewer plant. He also said that Crested Butte rushed to make the list for a potential one-time stimulus package that is being discussed in the United States Congress. “We have a $1.7 million project to construct a clarifier for the sewer plant. If Congress does what they are talking about and [puts] some stimulus money toward infrastructure, I am confident we are on the list to receive some of those funds.”
While Escalante voiced a desire to see the increase in water and sewer rates spread out over three years instead of two, the council agreed to make the complete jump in 24 months. They also asked the staff to review water useage in Crested Butte and come up with a way to base rates more on what is used as opposed to flat fees.
“We want to reward conservation and penalize excess,” said Berkshire. “Someone who over-waters their yard should be paying more than the person working to conserve water.”
The council also asked the staff to look for ways to help some of the old-timers in town who are in financial need to absorb the increase.
The rate will be part of the official budget that will be voted on by the council at their meetings in November.
 

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