Paonia town trustees were unable to adopt new water and sewer rates at the Dec. 13 meeting after tabling discussion of the ordinances needed to pass them by resolution.
The ordinances would replace the town's existing water and wastewater ordinances and would allow the town to adopt changes in base rates and user charges, with the exception of water and wastewater tap fees, by resolution. The town is proposing increases in both water and sewer base rates and usage charges following consideration of recommendations made in rate studies by the Fort Collins based company, Cruz & Associates.
Trustees Bill Brunner and Suzanne Watson have expressed opposition to the change and have said the change makes it too easy for the board to increase rates. Brunner said the board's job is to guard the town's money. "Anything that makes it easier to change the rates, I'm not for it," he said.
Brunner also questioned how the board came to a point where it is voting to adopt fees and charges through resolution." I don't believe there should be an expectation that we're going to pass something before we come to the vote on it," said Brunner.
In discussing the draft water ordinance, Brunner motioned, and Watson seconded, to have a sentence removed from the draft that states that the town shall establish water rates and charges "by resolution" of the board. He said he has found evidence that suggests that passing rates by resolution goes against state statue, specifically C.R.S. 31-15-708 (d), which states that for a town to supply water to consumers outside of town limits, "... to collect such charges upon such conditions and limitations as said municipality may impose by ordinance."
By making the change the town could be giving up its right to place liens on properties when users don't pay their utility or trash collection bills, as established by the ordinances, said Brunner. The way it reads, said Brunner, "We may impose rates by ordinance, or we may not impose rates."
Attorney David Marek pointed out that the statute states that town "may" impose rates by ordinance, which is "permissive. I know other towns that do this by resolution, so we're not breaking new ground here." He also said the ordinance allows rates to be changed or modified by resolution. "I don't think there's any inconsistency with the state statute in proceeding with rates by resolution," said Marek.
"The whole purpose of doing this was to be able to set by resolution," said trustee Karen Budinger. That allows the board to set new rates from time to time without having to go through the ordinance page by page.
The only reason the board is going through this process, said Brunner, "is that they've been presented with this ordinance to change this to resolution. I can't go along with the concept that we agreed this was going to happen," said Brunner. "In fact, I'm a little curious about how it came to be that we were presented with this in a finished form... I don't believe we took a vote to come to this point."
The suggestion was presented by interim town manager Dan Dean as a more efficient way to address rates, said Stewart. After the drafts came before the board more than a month ago, the board elected to have Marek go through the entire ordinance and clean up any inconsistencies.
"This was brought before the board at least a month ago," said mayor pro tem David Bradford. It was a recommendation from the public works committee and was brought before the board in previous meetings. "This is exactly where we're supposed to be and I would like us to move toward a vote, please."
Watson, who voted against the current resolutions last December, called the water ordinance "very large and messy," and said the town doesn't fully understand the way resolutions are set. Until it's cleared up, she said she will vote against it.
Brunner's motion to strike the sentence establishing water rates by resolution failed in a 4-2 vote, with trustees Chelsea Bookout, Bill Bear, Budinger and Bradford voting in favor. The board then directed Marek to research state statute and make necessary changes. The ordinances and accompanying resolutions are expected to come before the board again at the Jan. 10 meeting.
Trustees did vote 6-0 to approve a motion by Bradford to insert a paragraph into the water ordinance giving the town authority to restrict water use during times of drought. The paragraph was one of the items removed when the board adopted the ordinance earlier in the year. "I felt it was important that we maintain the ability to restrict water use in times of drought," said Bradford.
The board also voted 6-0 to adopt the 2017 budget. In doing so they also voted 6-0 to require that any nonprofit or organization asking for donations from the town for human services be required to make a presentation to the board prior to receiving funds.