Despite calls to lower water rates in Westminster and delay utilities capital projects, Westminster City Council gave the green light to an engineering firm to finish the design of a new water …
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Despite calls to lower water rates in Westminster and delay utilities capital projects, Westminster City Council gave the green light to an engineering firm to finish the design of a new water treatment plant that will replace the current one.
The city’s plan is to build a new water treatment plant by 2025, thus the project’s name “Water2025,” and phase out the existing Semper Water Treatment Facility by 2040. Council voted 5-1 at a meeting July 12 to pay CDM Smith, an engineering firm, an additional $12.5 million to design Water2025.
Mayor Anita Seitz and Councilors Kathryn Skulley, Jon Voelz, Lindsey Smith and Rich Seymour voted for the motion, while Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott dissented.
“The risk to residents, understanding the vulnerabilities of the treatment capacity that we currently have at Semper, is something that is concerning and alarming to me,” Seitz said, explaining her support for the motion. “Approving the design tonight puts us in a more competitive and better situation to find one of those creative solutions.”
The city has already paid CDM Smith $3 million, meaning the city is paying the firm $15.5 million in total. The city already budgeted the money it is paying CDM Smith based off revenue it has generated from existing water rates. Paying for the design of Water2025 is not part of future water rate projections.
However, future water rates will cover the cost to construct Water2025. As a result, city staff recommended to council an increase in water rates in 2022, a proposal that Council turned down 5-1 at a June 14 meeting. Seitz was the lone dissenting vote that time.
Council then discussed the issue further at a June 21 study session, in which three councilors — Seitz, Skulley and Voelz — said they agree with city staff’s overall financial plan for utilities capital improvements, while the other three said they disagree.
Council’s lack of consensus about water is driven by community strife over water rates, which has resulted in a July 20 recall election against Voelz. The recall campaign was originally launched against Voelz and three other members of council over claims that the councilors supported raising rates or didn’t support lowering rates. The campaign to put councilors on the recall ballot was ultimately only successful against Voelz.
Though Smith and Seymour previously expressed skepticism about the city’s plans for utilities, they supported the contract for the design of Water2025. “I am very on the fence about this. But again, as dollars are allocated for completing this project, I will be in the support of completing the design phase of this portion,” said Smith at the July 12 meeting.
At the July 12 meeting, Seymour, Smith and DeMott said they still disagree with the city’s current timeline for constructing Water2025. Seymour said he supported the contract for designing the project because it allows the city and city council to reevaluate a new timeline for Water2025.
But DeMott wasn’t having any of it. “I have recently brought up that I feel like that I’m not sure that we’re on the right trajectory or plan and whether this plan is currently needed.” DeMott argued that by approving the contract to design Water2025, it triggers a series of events that keeps the project moving at the pace that city staff desire.
“We are going to be painted into a corner. Maybe we are already painted into that corner, and I’m concerned about the path forward,” the mayor pro tem said. City Manager Don Tripp disagreed, and said all council is being asked is to approve the design contract.
DeMott replied that money spent on designing Water2025 would be wasted if the city ultimately doesn’t construct the treatment plant. Tripp sternly replied, “We are not going to come back and tell you that building this treatment plant is not the right path, not this staff.”
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