Additional fees also
By RUTH HEIDE
ALAMOSA — Alamosa residents will be flushing more cash down their toilets in the future.
The Alamosa city council will likely increase sewer rates this spring. The average residential customer now pays about $11.50 a month for sewage services. That involves a flat rate of $3.50 per month plus a usage fee based on $1 per 1,000 gallons of water measured in non-irrigation months. Commercial customers pay the same usage fee but their flat rate is $4, and industrial customers’ flat rate is $4.10 per month.
“We have to roughly double that, not necessarily in one year,” Alamosa Public Works Director Don Koskelin told city officials during a work session Wednesday night.
Rather than doubling the sewage fees this year, the councilors’ general consensus was to increase the average residential customer’s bill to about $16 a month, an increase of about $5 per month. That might involve an increase in the flat rate, the rate per thousand gallons or both.
Based on that input, Koskelin will provide a draft ordinance for the council’s next meeting February 18.
Koskelin said the city needs to increase its sewer rates to cover the costs of operating the system. He said the city is currently experiencing 35-52 percent shortfall in sewer revenue depending on whether or not depreciation costs are figured in.
Koskelin said the water rates previously covered these shortfalls but the new water treatment plant is using that revenue so there is no surplus to cover sewer costs. City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said the city is trying to cut costs as much as possible.
The city councilors discussed phasing in a sewer rate increase over time and/or adjusting rates annually. The city has not increased sewer rates since 1995.
Councilor Greg Gillaspie suggested an increase in the flat rate plus a minor increase in the per-thousand-gallon usage to encourage conservation.
Koskelin shared the rates of other Colorado cities showing that Alamosa currently ranks near the bottom with a few towns such as Limon and Walsenburg having lower sewer rates. One of the highest rates is Rifle where the average residential customer pays more than $50 a month for sewer. Mayor Farris Bervig said even with a rate increase Alamosa will be in the bottom third among Colorado municipalities.
Cherpeski said if the city had increased rates by about 3.5 percent each year, it would only need to increase rates by 6-8 percent this year but now the sewer revenues are so far behind that a more major increase will have to occur this year.
“The bottom line is we have to cover our costs,” said Councilor Kathy Rogers.
Koskelin also talked to the council about implementing a storm sewer fee. The city currently has no storm drainage fee.
Koskelin said developing a rate structure for storm sewers is tricky, so he recommended a flat rate. He said most cities have flat rates, with some charging differently for commercial and residential customers.
Koskelin suggested a flat fee of $1.50 per month for all city customers. That would generate about $60,000 a year.
The councilors leaned toward charging commercial customers more than residential commercials, and Koskelin said he would develop a proposed fee structure based on that input.
Koskelin said the city only has 300 commercial customers. Alamosa Mayor Farris Bervig said he would not be opposed to charging a $5 flat fee for commercial customers even though that would affect him as a businessperson.
The councilors discussed various methods of developing the fee for commercial customers including square footage of the buildings, lot size and parking spaces. Koskelin said those fee structures would be complicated.
Councilor April Gonzales said, “I don’t think keeping it simple is the same as keeping it fair.”
Gillaspie said, “Keep it simple.”
The councilors also discussed their concerns that storm drainage is nonexistent or in disrepair throughout the city. Koskelin said one of the problems with the city’s storm drainage is that the system may have been constructed big enough for an area initially but then was added onto so it no longer could keep up with the capacity. He said anytime the city experiences significant rains, the system’s weaknesses are revealed.
Cherpeski said the city could not improve its system, however, without additional revenue. Koskelin said when the city implements a storm sewer fee it could use a portion of the fee revenues for maintenance and a portion for system improvements.
Gonzales recommended using half of the funds to improve the system. “It’s not fair to charge somebody for something they will never get,” she said.
Koskelin gave the council an idea of how much a storm drainage project costs. He said the city completely redid the lift station by Burger King, essentially doubling the capacity, for a cost of $62,000.