Sanitation District mulls rate hike

Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 12:03 AM

It remains unknown how much sewer rates will increase next year in Cortez, but nationwide, average monthly sewer fees have increased by 15 percent since 2010.

A biennial 2012 American Water Works Association study found the average monthly wastewater bill for a typical customer with 1,000 cubic feet, or 7,480 gallons, of usage increased from $34.18 to $39.31 per month from 2010 to 2012. That 7.5 percent annual increase has outpaced annualized inflationary increases of 2.5 percent, the report added.

Over the summer, officials from the Cortez Sanitation District commissioned a $20,000 rate study to analyze its billing system, and sewer officials have announced they plan to increase collection fees starting in 2014.

But the proposed increases remain unknown, despite a half-dozen board meetings since June, including two already held this month.

“The rate schedules have yet to be set,” said CSD manager Tim Krebs, Jr. “We’re still hoping to set new rates by the end of the year.”

For months, Cortez Sanitation District officials have been collecting data that more accurately reflects customer usage fees with hopes of comparing billing models outlined by both the American Water Works Association and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Earlier this month, city sanitation officials opted to follow water association guidelines, based on square footage rather than consumption-based amounts, in setting new rates.

Currently, the sanitation district charges a mix of monthly flat rates for single-family residential users and water consumption-based rates for commercial users. Single-family residents and churches pay $30 per month, for example, and all other users are charged a base fee of $27 per month plus $3.50 per 1,000 gallons of water above 3,000 gallons.

The 2012 the water works association study revealed that about half of all wastewater utilities billed residential customers based on water use, and 85 percent indicated they have the same rate structure for residential and nonresidential customers.

The city of Cortez currently charges sanitation district officials $1,000 per month to electronically share actual water-usage fees with the Cortez Sanitation District. The district then uses the data to bill its 4,381 commercial accounts.

SGM, a Gunnison-based engineering and surveying firm, is conducting the Cortez Sanitation District rate study. Prior to the district’s obtaining accurate billing rates, SGM was forced to rely on faulty figures, and in some cases create imaginary statistics when they first presented a 22-page rate study to city sanitation officials in June.

SGM recommended the district adopt a Cortez-specific hybrid billing system, but district officials flushed the measure, citing customers could perceive the plan as arbitrary.

Cortez Sanitation District is projected to take in nearly $1.8 million in user-generated revenues this year.

The CSD board is next scheduled to meet Nov. 11.