Westminster’s deep dive into the water utilities, water rates and how costs are figured out will kick off Oct. 8 with the first of a series of virtual meetings. “Our facilitator has proposed an …
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Westminster’s deep dive into the water utilities, water rates and how costs are figured out will kick off Oct. 8 with the first of a series of virtual meetings.
“Our facilitator has proposed an orderly way to step through a process that will eventually lead us to water rate recommendations,” Public Works Director Max Kirschbaum said. “So there is a bit of an agenda with these.”
The meetings are designed to provide councilors and residents common information about the city’s water and sewer utilities before discussion potential water rate increases in 2022.
The meetings are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 8 and 20 and Nov. 3 and 17 and will follow the council’s current process for online meetings. Councilors will log in via a video messaging service and residents will be able to log in and watch.
“In the first meeting, what will be discussed is really the current state of the water and sewer infrastructure so everyone can have a good baseline understanding of where we are, what our needs are and how we identify the capital projects,” Kirschbaum said.
Councilors have hired meeting facilitator Heather Bergman with Peak Facilitation Group to lead the meetings. The first meeting will include a discussion of how to include community feedback for subsequent meetings.
“That will give us a good road map to follow on speaking with our customers going forward,” he said.
Agendas for the the remaining meetings should be determined at the first meeting.
“Those agendas may be a bit more fluid because the facilitators or members of council may choose to modify the path a little bit,” he said. “But the second, third and fourth meetings should lead us to understand how rate setting works, what our choices may be and how we can come back with recommendations following these meetings.”
Councilors voted in 2018 to increase residential water rates for 2020 by roughly 10%, while commercial rates increased between 6% and 10%. Staff told councilors those increases were needed to pay for repairs and maintain the city’s aging system of water pipes, storage tanks and mains.
Councilors were scheduled to consider a similar increase for 2021 this summer. That potential increase was postponed due to concerns about the economic impact of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders.
“As we talk about options or changes, it’s important for us to realize how we got where we are now.”
The 2020 increase has led a group of residents to begin a recall effort aimed at removing Mayor Herb Atchison and Councilors Anita Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz. Atchison, Seitz and Skulley were on the council when the rate increase was approved.
Kirschbaum said comments his staff has received from residents are similar to comments and questions he’s received from City Councilors.
Kirschbaum said the city has used a tiered rate system since 1976 that is meant to charge residents more when they use more water. Westminster has three tiers. The first charges the lowest rate for everyone in the city. Those that use more than 6,000 gallons per month pay a higher rate for that additional water. Those that use more than 20,000 gallons per month pay the highest rate for that water.
The lowest rate increased from $3.57 per 1,000 gallons in 2019 to $3.96 in 2020.
Residential customers that use more water, between 6,001 and 20,000 gallons per month, now pay $8.15 per 1,000 gallons for water in that tier— up from $7.35 in 2019.
Customers that use more than 20,000 gallons per month pay the most, $12.88 per 1,000 gallons, for the water used in that tier. That’s a $1.26 increase from the 2019 rate of $11.26 per 1,000 gallons.
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