A preliminary rate study suggests the Cortez Sanitation District should bill all its customers a known flat rate.
Commissioned by the Cortez Sanitation District (CSD), the study was prepared by Gunnison-based engineering and surveying firm SGM, and presented to board members at their monthly meeting Monday.
SGM design and field engineer Tyler Harpel said the flat rate would simplify the billing process and ensure users were not charged for irrigation water not collected in the wastewater system.
“The key point here is to set the rates that are right for you guys,” Harpel told board members. “We’re not biased to one user category or another. We want to set fair rates that cover the costs for the services you provide.”
Currently, the district’s monthly rate structure is a mix of flat rates for single-family residential users and water consumption based rates for commercial users.
Single-family residents and churches pay a flat $30 fee per month, 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.
Not yet officially adopted by CSD, the proposed billing adjustment raised concerns for CSD board chairman Dave Waters.
He questioned if the new flat-rate measure would force single-family residences to subsidize commercial businesses.
“If we’re cutting our commercial costs in half, then that’s not fair,” Waters said.
To learn more about the proposed impacts, Waters requested the study be amended by comparing current hotel and car wash usage rates to the new proposed SFE usage rates.
“Everybody needs to pay his or her fair share,” he said. “And since we are basically making up our own rates, then we need to check those figures first.”
According to Harpel, the preliminary 22-page SGM report was prepared without specific water-usage data from single-family residences, but instead based on usage approximations from all other customers.
The report estimates that single-family homes in Cortez use approximately 180 gallons of water per day.
The SGM report recommends that all rates be based on a Single Family Equivalent (SFE) structure.
An SFE is a generic term for a residential unit that on average equals a single family made up of 2.3 people. SFEs are used as a guideline to determine water and sewer usage rates.
“Your current definition of an SFE is 300 gallons per day, which is in the middle of industry standards,” Harpel said. “For Cortez specific, your single-family users are much closer to 200 SFEs per day.”
The SGM report assigns a minimum of one SFE per facility in Cortez.
To estimate sewer use at a hotel, for example, the report suggests adding a quarter SFE to a hotel room without a private bath, adding .375 SFE for a hotel with private bath and adding a half SFE to a hotel with private bath and kitchen.
Other examples in the SGM proposal include adding a quarter SFE for every passenger at the airport, an additional 1.9 SFE for every 100 sq. ft. of a car wash, adding .185 SFE for every 100 sq. ft. at the hospital and an additional .08 SFE for every employee at the Cortez Journal to calculate approximate sewer use.
Last fall, CSD assumed billing from the City of Cortez, ending a decade-long billing contract.
Under city authority, homeowners paid $14.75 a month with an additional 20 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water used, which didn’t account for lawn watering and other water use that didn’t involve the wastewater system.
Commercial operations were charged $16.50 per month.
From October 2012 to March 2013, CSD’s monthly average collections totaled more than $160,000, according to the SGM report.
CSD assets are estimated at $34 million for collection pipelines and manholes, and the district recently spent $12 million for a treatment plant and lift stations for a total $46 million investment.