Cortez Sanitation District officials indicated this week that they want to avoid another stink over its sewer rates.
In 2014, 1 in 10 of the district’s commercial customers experienced fee increases of more than 100 percent after a controversial decision to adjust sewer rates based on 1994 national averages. After months of mounting tensions, the district approved a temporary 12-month rate schedule to offer some relief for those commercial customers that were most impacted. The measure expires next month.
Based on the decades-old national averages, Teresa Wlodyka, owner of the Tomahawk Lodge on South Broadway, saw her sewer rates spike nearly 400 percent last year. She attended the district’s latest meeting on Monday, July 13, asking if consumption-based rates would return after the city completes its $760,000 digital water meter upgrade.
“The agreement wasn’t to automatically go back to consumption,” said CSD manager Tim Krebs.
Once the temporary rate schedule expires on Aug. 1, commercial rates for those most impacted could increase as much as 100 percent. If that occurs, Wlodyka’s monthly sewer bill, for example, could jump from its current $245 per month to $368. Prior to the 2014 rate adjustment, Wlodyka was paying an average of $125 per month.
“Last year, before it was lowered temporarily, I was paying $468,” said Wlodyka, reiterating her desire that rates be based on consumption once the new digital water meters come online.
“What we’re not willing to do for everyone, then we can’t do for one,” Krebs replied.
“Are you planning to talk to the city to do an agreement?” Wlodyka posed. “Are you willing to base the billings on consumption?”
“For now, everyone is happy,” said Krebs. “It’s a flat rate.”
Understanding of Wlodyka’s situation, board members agreed to place the topic on its August agenda for further discussion, but they were unsure when the city’s new water meters would be in service. They also indicated that they had the authority to extend the temporary rate structure, but no official action was taken.
The district’s sewer rates were initially switched from consumption-based to national averages after repeated allegations that the city provided inconsistent and unreliable billing data. City leaders emphatically dismissed those claims as nonsense.
Some residential sewer customers have also raised objections to the district’s flat billing rate of $30 per month, arguing a household of four, for example, impacts the district’s treatment operations more than a single household.
Reached via email on Tuesday, City Manager Shane Hale said the city would be open to collaborate with the district regarding its billing. He added public works had set a goal to have the new electronic meters installed by Oct. 1.
“If the district wants to consider going back to a consumption-based billing methodology, the city wouldn’t hesitate to work with the district to achieve this end,” said Hale.
If the agreement was strictly limited to providing meter data for the district to continue its own billing, Hale said an intergovernmental agreement could be reached quickly and easily.
“Under this scenario, the only point of contention would be determining a fair charge for the data,” said Hale. “I would think that we could come to an agreement within a month or two.”
If the discussion called for the city to resume the district’s billing, Hale said that agreement would be more complicated and could require six months or more to iron out.
Under the district’s current rate structure, commercial sewer fees are determined based on six different classifications. While most business rates are based on square footage, hotel fees are linked to total number of units, hospital charges are connected to total number of beds and schools and day cares are subject to total student capacity.
CSD approved the rate hike following a $25,000 engineering study, which suggested commercial customers be awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on 1994 American Water Works Association averages. The SFE ratio is based on the square footage, number of employees or number of beds, for example, which is then multiplied by $30 to determine the business’s monthly sewer rate.
With some 4,400 residential, governmental and commercial customers, the district is projected to collect more than $2 million in service fees this year.