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Paonia tables rate hike discussion to Nov. 22 meeting

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Paonia citizens will have another chance to comment on proposed water rate increases after trustees tabled two related agenda items at the Nov. 8 board meeting.

The first item tabled called for consideration of an ordinance "amending, adding to and deleting portions of town municipal code dealing with water service." The amendment repeals the current ordinance governing water rates and policies and replaces it with a new ordinance. Language still includes all definitions, explanation of rates, billing procedures and late and non-payment notification procedures and fees. Information on water and sewer taps and fees will remain in the ordinance, since they are of a more permanent nature. Those fees are not expected to change in 2017.

A change in the ordinance addresses how the town adopts changes in usage rates. The rates are addressed in the second item tabled, "consideration of a resolution adopting increases in water rates and fees." Historically, the town has adopted water rate increases through the water ordinance (see "Paonia considers water rate hike" in the Nov. 2 DCI). If the amended ordinance passes, rates will be adopted by resolution, beginning with the rate increases proposed for 2017.

Those increases are based on recommendations made in a water rate study by the Fort Collins consulting firm Cruz & Associates, Inc. If approved, basic in-town rates would increase from $27 to $27.55 per month per residential account, and out-of-town basic rates would increase from $35 to $35.70 for residential customers and from $51 to $52 for commercial customers.

Per-thousand-gallon charges proposed will increase slightly for all users as follows:

0-1,000 gallons -- from $1.75 to $1.80; 10,001-20,000 -- from $2.00 to $2.05; 20,001-30,000 -- from $3.50 to $3.60; 30,001-100,000 -- from $4.50 to $4.60; and 100,001 or more gallons -- from $5.50 to $5.60 per thousand.

With the meeting competing with election night, only a handful of citizens were in the audience. Trustee Chelsea Bookout made a motion to table the two agenda items.

"I think a motion to table it would be a wonderful idea," said Paonia resident Mary Bachran. She also requested that the resolutions be posted to the town website prior to the next meeting on Nov. 22. "I find it very frustrating to come to these meetings and have these ordinances be put forward for consideration and I haven't even had a chance to review it yet," said Bachran.

The board faces a short timeline if it wants to have rate increases approved and in place by Jan. 1. "I don't see any problem putting these materials on the website," said interim town manager Dan Dean. "Whether it's done tonight or at the Nov. 22 meeting isn't critical. Beyond that, he said, it becomes difficult to meet all the legal requirements of implementing the resolution.

The motion to table passed on a 3-2 vote, with trustees Bill Bear and David Bradford voting "nay."

At the upcoming Nov. 22 meeting the board anticipates discussion and possible action on proposed sewer rate increases. The study by Cruz and Associates was distributed at the meeting. The public works committee has reviewed the study and recommends increasing rates by about $3 per account, said Dean.

The 22-page study recommends a 20 percent increase in charges in 2017 in order to generate needed revenue, with 5 percent increases recommended in 2018 and 2019, and a 3.5 percent increase recommended in 2020. Increases would help cover financing costs for system improvements the town anticipates making in 2018 and 2019, according to the study.

Trustees also anticipate action at the Nov. 22 meeting on an ordinance allowing the board to adopt sewer rates by resolution rather than by ordinance, which is consistent with actions under consideration for water rates.

Last December, monthly base rates for in-town wastewater/sewer service charges increased from $26 to $31 per unit, and out of town fees increased from $44 to $50 per unit. Monthly base rates for restaurants, beauty shops and other businesses is $62.

If approved, all rate increases become effective on Jan. 1.

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