Countywide water, sewer fees increase at varying levels

$309 quarterly sewer fee now in effect for North Valley 

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

People at both ends of the Gunnison Valley are seeing a drastic rate hike in County water and sewer fees for the second year in a row, and many residents have been calling and e-mailing county officials in recent weeks to complain or request more context for the decision. While county officials expressed their sympathies for what amounts to a 36% sewer rate hike for North Valley residents and a 56% hike for residents at the south end of the valley, the decision came after several open commissioner discussions and stems from the need to balance rate inequities that were unknowingly occurring between the county and the city of Gunnison to cover the costs of the sewer treatment facility in Gunnison. The county also raised landfill fees this year and formally adopted a tap fee increase this week for all new home builds to cover the costs of maintaining and improving the current infrastructure.

After a presentation from Gunnison County Public Works director Marlene Crosby in November in advance of the county’s 2022 budget adoption, and proposed water, sewer and landfill fee changes published in the Crested Butte News for two weeks, commissioners approved rate increases county-wide, varying by district based on debt service, to keep up with cost and rate increases happening with the City of Gunnison. 

“The significant rate increase of the sewer rates is the result of the new wastewater treatment fees proposed to the County by the City of Gunnison. The City of Gunnison is planning on increasing the County’s share of the wastewater treatment charges effective the beginning of the New Year,” wrote Gunnison County senior accountant Agnes Kroneraff in e-mail to the News. A study of previous charges determined that city residents had been covering a disproportionate amount of the wastewater treatment and adjustments were needed to compensate. 

The water rates will increase by 6.5% at the Antelope Hills Division on the northwest part of the system, and will stay the same at the Dos Rios Division to the south. Sewer rates will increase by 53.3% at the Dos Rios Division, 36% at the North Gunnison Division (which includes the North Valley), 16% at the Antelope Hills Division, and will stay the same at the Somerset Division. That amounts to $309.80 per quarter for the North Valley, which is the highest fee of any division. 

“It’s a huge hit. And I get it,” said Crosby. She discussed the issue with commissioners during their meeting on February 1, and commissioners said they were also hearing from constituents about it.

“The city [of Gunnison] has had some significant increases… so we thought that last year the 17% raise would bring us to the end of the additional charges. Our initial budget was based on that,” reviewed Crosby. 

But when the city had an analysis of rates done their agreement with the county to use their treatment plant it became clear the previous rate increase hadn’t been enough. “We manage the manholes, we manage the line, but we do not treat the wastewater—that’s done by the City of Gunnison,” said Crosby. “City users and county users are to pay the same according to the agreement with the city. And the county was paying 37% and 43% less for treatment… so the most recent increase brings that even. The difference is Dos Rios doesn’t use any of the city’s infrastructure…they also are an old system and don’t have debt service that North Gunnison does,” said Crosby. 

A map of the system can be found at gis.gunnisoncounty.org/default_map.aspx

Tap fees increase for future developments

Commissioners gave a general nod last month to Public Works to raise water and sewer tap fees (on new construction) to keep up with rate increases from the City of Gunnison. Those rates, approved on February 1, will double water tap fees, increase sewer tap fees by varying amounts accross the county, and reduce rates for deed restricted owners to 63% of the standard rate. 

“The reason we want to increase tap fees is we know we have to do some work on those systems: Dos Rios and North Gunnison,” said Crosby. She explained that both systems have high water tables adjacent to irrigation and have to protect against infiltration. 

Additionally, county landfill rates have also increased in 2022 by 15% across all disposal fee types (rounded to the nearest dollar), and interest charges have resumed effective January 1, 2022 for all water, sewer, and landfill accounts that carry a balance.

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