The Thornton City Council made clear at a Feb. 9 planning session that it won’t be approving a 4 percent increase in residential water rates and a maximum $15,000 increase in tap fees. Many …
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The Thornton City Council made clear at a Feb. 9 planning session that it won’t be approving a 4 percent increase in residential water rates and a maximum $15,000 increase in tap fees.
Many councilors felt that too steep of an increase in water rates will provoke residents into frustration and developers into aversion, they said after consultant Raftelis presented a rate study. Instead, the council directed staff to brainstorm a different plan for future costs related to infrastructure maintenance and new capital projects.
“I wouldn’t be able to in good faith support this,” said Councilwoman Angie Bedolla. About every member of the council expressed similar sentiments.
For Thornton to afford repairs of aging infrastructure and a capital improvement plan with a budget of $821.4 million until 2029, the city would have to tack on an additional $3.22 to a customers’ average monthly bill in 2022. That average monthly bill, which is currently $61.38, would jump to $64.20. Then, every two years after that, Raftelis suggested subsequent 3 to 4 percent increases.
The recommendations would follow three 13 percent increases in the past five years. Average monthly water bills nearly doubled between 2015 and 2020 to go towards a new water treatment plant and the Thornton Water Project pipeline.
Raftelis representative Rick Giardina acknowledged that Thornton’s water rates have recently risen high and fast. But he said, “I’ll characterize them as catch-ups.”
In addition to residential rates, Raftelis recommended increases in tap fees, the one-time payments a property owner or developer pays to connect a lot to the city’s water system. Raftelis recommended raising single-family detached home tap fees — depending on the home’s square footage — by a range of $7,000 to more than $15,000 in 2022.
If Thornton greenlit both of Raftelis’ recommendations, Thornton’s residential rates would be the 11th highest among 25 cities in the metro area. Its tap fees would be the fifth highest.
With tap fees like that, “We will be passed over in development. I don’t think that’s what we want,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren in a phone call. “It prevents us from getting the type of development that we want to see when we talk about diverse housing and a variety of price ranges. “
Sandgren and other councilors had a similar unease about the residential rates, expressing concern about customers’ response. At a January planning session, when Raftelis recommended sewer rate increases, councilors responded unenthusiastically and noted political tension in Westminster and Brighton over water rate increases. A recall campaign in Westminster over water rates is still ongoing
After the most recent study session, Sandgren said she worries that Thornton residents will make comparisons to their neighbors. She said, “People are going to have some concern if they hear that rates are going to go up and say, `Look at what happened in Westminster.’ So, I think if it were compared to or discussed in the same terms, I think that would definitely be a concern.”
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