Fraser residents brace for possible water-rate increases
FRASER — Water users could see an increase of $80 in water and sewer rates in the coming year, pending the validation of the 2014 budget by the town council on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with the possibility of a $113 per-tap special assessment being issued to raise money to address augmentation needs.
Water and sewer rates for all Fraser water users are proposed to be increased by 8 percent, or $10 a quarter for both water and wastewater rates, equating to $80 a year, in an effort to both battle the rising costs associated with operations and maintenance of the systems as well as to increase the reserve funds for the accounts.
The rate increases related to water and wastewater funds come after years of the town’s trustees electing to keep water and wastewater rates flat due to concerns about ratepayers’ financial strength, according to Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin.
In the past — before the town board elected to keep water rates flat — water rates were increased about 5 percent yearly to keep up with rising operations and maintenance costs and to help pay for capital improvement projects, according to Durbin.
Rates were kept flat in past years by supplementing revenues with money from the general fund as well as the use of Plant Investment Fees for operational costs for the systems.
“It was with regret that the town board increased customer’s water/sewer bill by 8 percent in 2014, but given the challenges our utility faces and the many years of deferred maintenance, rate increases are an unfortunate inevitability,” according to the 2014 budget message that was released in association with the proposed budget.
The rate increases are meant to fund routine operations and maintenance, capital projects, and address inadequate reserves for the two funds, namely the water fund reserve, which will total $360,000 at the end of 2013 with a carry-over balance estimated to be $438,000.
While the wastewater fund’s balance is much higher, estimated to have a balance of $2.65 million at the end of the year, the board has discussed utilizing this balance in order to address a number of issues the system faces, including plant expansion and addressing infiltration of groundwater into the collection system.
Blue Zone special assessment
The special assessment that is proposed for Blue Zone users made up of all of Fraser except for the Grand Park and Rendezvous developments, will be used to raise $100,000 to initiate project planning for the “Fraser Firming Project,” to augment the town’s water supply. The special assessment would equate to a $28.25 quarterly charge, or $113 a year per-tap, that would show on Blue Zone users’ bills in 2014.
Due to the Byers Peak Ranch annexation agreement being voted down during this November’s election, which would have constructed augmentation ponds for use by the town in exchange for future water-plant investment fees associated with the development, the town must pursue another way of constructing augmentation, according to town documents.
Moving forward with the augmentation project is a top priority for the town board in 2014, budget documents read.
The project will require substantially more funding than the $100,000 the town hopes to raise through the special assessment, but the money raised will begin the process and allow the town to investigate possible augmentation alternatives.
The Fraser Town Board has said it believes money for the project should come from Blue Zone users only, as the Grand Park and Rendezvous developments have already constructed these facilities as was required under their annexation agreements.
Because the Fraser Firming Project would benefit only Blue Zone users, the town board does not believe it can validate using money from the water fund or its reserves because residents of Rendezvous and Grand Park also pay into those funds.
The money raised by the special assessment would only be used for the Fraser Firming Project and any money not spent from the $100,000 will be used solely for the project, according to budget documents.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334
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