About a dozen Cedaredge residents attended the Sept. 21 town board meeting with complaints that the recent water rate hike is causing unacceptable billing increases, hardship and negative impacts to the town.
Complaints of water billings that have gone from $70 per month to $128 per month; from $78 to $131 per month; and from $80 per month to $152 per month for less water usage were cited.
"I can't afford this," said two-year Cedaredge resident Sylvia Heinrich. She cited a 145 percent increase in her water bill from last year. "You keep this up and Cedaredge will be a ghost town." She said she bought and completely landscaped her home on NW 10th only last year.
Jennifer Wagner told trustees that the water rate increase "is a huge concern for myself and others I've talked to." (More attendees at the meeting also told the DCI their neighbors and other town residents are feeling the increase hard.)
Wagner said that people she has talked with are seeing an average $30 per month increase in charges. "That's a big increase," she said. Wagner told trustees that the town's concern for "three blocks of Main Street" means that just one block to the north or south "yards will be turning brown and gardens drying up. People won't maintain their yards with this increase. People [already] aren't taking care of their properties like they used to."
Wagner said she knew the higher rates were coming and would have paid closer attention to the process. "But I didn't feel the town would take such a drastic jump."
Wagner noted, "This didn't happen overnight" and added "there should have been smaller increases over a longer time."
Mayor Gene Welch said, "I agree with you." He explained that the funds are needed to pay for system upkeep. "Our needs are outgrowing our revenue," he said.
Welch said, "Maybe it is the fault of previous boards. It should have been dome five or six years ago. I'm sorry."
Trustee Ray Hanson said the new rates "are the result of 40 years of not keeping the system up," and he acknowledged they are "a pretty drastic jump for a lot of people."
Resident Andy Penfield called the rates "a drastic change." He said his water bill has increased $40 per month even though he is using 3,000 fewer gallons per month. He said he would have preferred "stair step [increases] over several years."
Trustee Al Smith agreed, but added, "We needed to do [the increase]."
The town hired a water rates consultant from Jefferson City, Mo., earlier this year to conduct a study of the town's rate structure and make recommendations. Trustees said the new rates are based on those recommendations. Welch referred to infrastructure improvements the town's distribution system needs, including major work on the North Ridge water line.
Welch said the town believed the new rates would produce on average a 29 percent increase.
Cedaredge utility bills are a combination of a base charge, water use, and a sewer charge based on the amount of water used. Laurie Plotner criticized the town's management practice of using money from water and sewer fund accounts to provide support for the golf course while infrastructure improvements have long gone neglected
"We're playing 40 years of catch-up," Welch said.
The billing increases reported at the meeting "surprise me," said Smith.
"This is a huge hardship for a lot of people," Wagner said.
Business owner Cathy Meskel voiced concern about the impact of the higher rates since she had multiple taps. Meskel also told the board of bothersome smoke from a neighbor's wood burning stove. Police Chief Dan Sanders said his department would respond and investigate if they get a call when the stove is smoking badly.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.