Consultant recommends increase in Thornton sewer rates

Council cautious of idea, citing the politically controversial nature of rate increases

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/26/21

Rate consultant Raftelis recommended Thornton City Council to increase sewer rates for system upkeep and capital investments. Council listened to Raftelis representatives present a comprehensive …

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Consultant recommends increase in Thornton sewer rates

Council cautious of idea, citing the politically controversial nature of rate increases

Posted

Rate consultant Raftelis recommended Thornton City Council to increase sewer rates for system upkeep and capital investments.

Council listened to Raftelis representatives present a comprehensive sewer rate study at a planning session Jan. 19.

Councilors didn’t express support or opposition to the rate increases and said they need more time to study the findings.

Councilwoman Julia Marvin said she wants to “see the impact of what it’s going to be overall for residents.”

“I think we have all seen what has happened in Westminster. So, it might be helpful, too, to get some input from the public just to see if, generally, this is something that people would be okay with,” Marvin added.

Marvin’s comment was echoed Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren, showing that utility rates are a touchy subject across the north metro area.

In Westminster, a citizen-led group is trying to recall four members of Westminster City Council for supporting water rate increases. The Westminster city clerk’s office deemed the recall petitions invalid, leading the recall group to recently file suit to try and overturn the clerk’s decision.

In 2019, Brighton residents recalled the former Mayor Ken Kreutzer partly for supporting water rate increases.

Alluding to threats of recall, Sandgren said after Raftelis’ presentation, “I just want to make sure we’re not going to put ourselves in a similar situation.”

70 cent increase needed

However, Raftelis and city staff made it clear the increases are necessary for the city to achieve its future goals. There are two ways the city generates revenue for its sewer system: rates and connection fees. Monthly rates for customers should increase by about $.70 starting in 2022, Raftelis representative Andrew Rheem said. That would add up to an average monthly bill of $19.87.

Subsequently, rates should increase incrementally every year of about $.60 for monthly bills.

Meanwhile, the consultant proposed changes for connection fees, a one-time cost that developers or homeowners pay to connect their house to the city’s sewer system. Raftelis recommended increasing connection fees at a range of $175 to $570 depending on the dwelling unit someone is paying for.

Thornton’s sewer system needs plenty of work, said Jason Pierce, Thornton’s infrastructure engineering director. For capital investments, Thornton is completing upgrades to its Big Dry Creek life station for build outflows.

Right now, the city spends $1 million a year to rehabilitate five miles of pipe — about 1 percent of the total system.

At the current rate, “That would take about 100 years to replace every pipe in our system,” Pierce said. By 2024, the city wants to spend about $3 million a year on rehabilitation.

“The goal is to become more proactive than reactive,” Pierce added.

Meanwhile, the city’s wastewater is treated at the Metro Wastewater plant, which a special district owns. The district’s board has historically increased costs it assesses to partnering cities, which customers ultimately pay for.

Before considering any increases to sewer rates, several councilors said they will await Raftelis’ water rate study that is scheduled for discussion at a Feb. 2 planning session. Raftelis representatives didn’t offer any hints whether they will also recommend water rate increases.

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