Fraser’s water woes left stranded by voter results
FRASER — Two measures that sought to create mill levies that would have generated funds for the town’s water and wastewater accounts were voted down by around 54 percent on Nov. 5.
The two measures would have created mill levies of not more than 5 mills against all taxable property in Fraser in order to generate $200,000 for each of those funds on an annual basis. The cost translates to about $40 per $100,000 in property value per year.
Since the two measures were voted down, the town is now faced with some tough decisions, according to town officials.
“At the top of the agenda for 2014 will be Fraser augmentation and how we acquire land for that,” said Fraser Mayor Peggy Smith. “We believe that is something that needs to be done, and we have put it off for nearly 30 years.”
Due to the Byers Peak annexation agreement being voted down, the town will not receive land for water augmentation from the developer of that property, as stipulated in the agreement the town brokered, so the town will have to find another option to build water augmentation.
The water augmentation needs to be built to protect the town’s blue zone users ability to have water. The blue zone is comprised of “Old Town,” Workshire Acres, Byers Vista, Victoria Village, Lower Ptarmigan, Forest Meadows, Wapiti Meadows, and the Fox Run subdivisions.
The blue zone is serviced by wells, though if senior water rights holders downstream placed a call for water, the town could be forced to slow down pumping from the wells that supply the blue zone or shut them down altogether. Water augmentation is needed to protect against this situation.
The town will now seek to begin the process of building augmentation, a cost that blue zone users will need to absorb. Without the mill levies, the town will need to seek other forms of funding for needed water infrastructure, which could include quarterly rate increases for blue zone users.
The town still needs to decide how to address the issue and will be discussing rate increases to be able to keep the two accounts from plunging into deficit.
At the town’s first public hearing regarding the town budget for 2014, the estimated deficit for the water fund was quoted at $345,000, which included the cost to begin the process to locate and acquire land for water augmentation.
Water augmentation land costs to protect the blue zone was estimated at $285,000 for 2014. Blue zone users would be held responsible to pay for this cost, according to town officials.
If the town chooses to increase blue zone users quarterly rates, blue zone users could be liable to pay an extra $100 a quarter or $400 a year in water rates, according to a rough estimate from Nat Havens, the town’s finance manager. This rate increase would only be designed to keep the water fund at $0 and would not build any reserve funds for the account.
If the town’s voters would have approved the measures, the whole town would contribute to pay for the cost to build needed water infrastructure — including Clark Lipscomb, the developer of the Byers Peak properties, who owns other property town.
The next step for the town will be to engage citizens so they fully understand the difficult choices the town faces, Smith said.
The water and wastewater committee for the town will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and will discuss the town’s options. The town board will also discuss its options at its Nov. 20, public hearing on Fraser’s 2014 budget.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334
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