Jimmer’s Backcountry BBQ has been paying nearly $120 per month in sewer fees. In the New Year, the rate is expected to drastically decrease.
At a special Cortez Sanitation District (CSD) meeting in November, restaurant manager Dylan Ferguson said his $116 monthly fixed sewer rate – based on square footage – was equivalent to consuming 25,000 gallons of water every month.
“There’s no way I’m using 25,000 gallons of water,” said Ferguson. “I might be using 5,000 gallons.”
Ferguson, who also holds a post on the CSD board, said switching to a consumption-based sewer rate would not only mean significant savings, but it would also be fair.
“People should pay for what they use,” said Ferguson.
At a special 120-minute meeting on Nov. 19, Ferguson and other CSD board members discussed the pros and cons of returning sewer rates to a consumption-based scale. Two years ago, the board implemented a fixed rate fee schedule based on decades-old national averages, which drew ire from some commercial customers.
Resuming a consumption fee scale, CSD officials expressed fears that the district could operate at a deficit. CSD generated $2.16 million in revenues this year using a fixed billing system. An exact financial impact of revenues received from consumption-based billing will remain undetermined until the end of 2016, according to CSD manager Tim Krebs.
Despite the unknowns, CSD officials voted 3-1 this month to implement a consumption-based fee scale starting Jan. 1. The district will calculate customer bills based on water usage data provided by the City of Cortez. Also approved by a 3-1 vote, an intergovernmental agreement requires CSD to pay $1,000 per month for the municipal water meter data. Ferguson was absent when both votes were taken on Dec. 14.
Voting against both proposals, CSD board member John Stramel said the city’s data cost was too expensive. Instead, Stramel said he preferred that CSD’s customers be responsible for providing their respective usage data to calculate sewer bills. He also said that the city’s meter data, now collected via radio frequency, could be unreliable, which was the basis for switching to a fixed rate in 2013.
“It wasn’t easy working with (the city) before, and I don’t think it will be again,” Stramel said.
Despite Stramel’s opposition, the CSD board approved a new rate structure for 2016, which includes a flat rate of $32 per month for residential customers. Commercial, governmental and schools will also pay a flat rate of $32 per month for up to 5,000 gallons consumed with an additional $4 charge for each additional 1,000 gallons.
Up from the consumption rate of $27 per month charged prior to 2013, CSD board member Jim Candelaria said the district had to balance revenues against future infrastructure improvements. A 2013 rate study forecasted the district would need $10 million in improvements over the next three decades.
“We’re already behind what was recommended,” said Candelaria, adding that residential customers, for example, should be paying close to $35 per month in the New Year.
“I know no one wants to raise rates, but if we don’t do this, then we’re never going to stay ahead,” he continued.
Learning about the Nov. 19th special called meeting after it occurred, The Journal emailed Krebs requesting an audio recording of the meeting. The newspaper’s Dec. 7th email went unanswered.
A week later, The Journal again, via email, requested an audio recording from Krebs. He responded, telling the media that the recording would become available only after the minutes were approved. He also demanded a letter of request.
At CSD’s regular meeting on Monday, The Journal publicly requested an audio recording from November’s special meeting. After CSD board members conducted a secret evaluation of Kreb’s performance that evening, he informed the newspaper via email that an audio recording of from the meeting was available.