Taxpayers angry: Three Lakes septic inspection proposal met with outrage
Grand Lake, Colorado
Angered Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District taxpayers had a chance to vent frustrations Friday.
Because aging household septic systems and failures are an increasing concern for the protection of Three Lakes-area watersheds, district board members invited more than 450 residents with septic systems to attend a meeting about a possible septic inspection program.
But the meeting took a sharp turn when this cross-section of the district’s residents vocalized a simmering objection to paying taxes without the benefit of services.
One woman stood up and announced that the letter inviting her to the meeting was the first district correspondence she’d received in 22 years. Meanwhile, she’s been paying district taxes each year, even though her home is unable to tap into the district main.
Others objected to the district insinuating they are not properly maintaining their homes’ septic systems, which can cost around $20,000 to $30,000 to a homeowner upon failure.
Thus, residents being asked to approve that the county hand over septic management to Three Lakes ” so more money might be tapped to implement inspections ” crashed and burned Friday night.
Tim Ziebarth of the Sunnyshore subdivision on the south shore of Lake Granby said eight years ago, a group of Sunnyshore neighbors submitted a petition to the Three Lakes board to be excluded from the district. The subdivision, around since the 1950s, has been unable to connect to Three Lakes because of the obstruction of a Colorado Big Thompson water channel, where piped sewage is prohibited by state and federal agencies.
The district informed the Sunnyshore group that suing the district was its only recourse, according to Ziebarth. But after exploring the cost of taking on the district, the group realized attorney’s fees would account for 30 years-worth of district taxes, with no guarantees.
“So, we just gave up at that point,” Ziebarth said.
He and others are discouraged by a district boundary drawn back in the late 1970s “without consideration for what is feasible to do,” Ziebarth said. Paying roughly $300 a year into the district, he’d like to see it redraw its boundaries, or in the least, exempt certain areas that are impossible to serve.
Stillwater Small Tracts resident Brian Mahony said he doubts Three Lakes would ever give up the revenue.
“There’s major animosity to Three Lakes Sanitation because people have been paying for nothing for a long time,” he said.
Board member Bob Froehlich said “paying for nothing” is not altogether true. Septic owners may not be getting direct sanitation service, but they are getting assurances of a much greater good ” clean water and air ” with such a district in place, and that can mean higher property values.
Prior to the district’s formation about three decades ago, sewage was pumped into Shadow Mountain Reservoir.
The district knows 5 to 10 home septic systems fail each year within its boundaries, and estimates another 45 to 90 aging systems could be failing in terms of protection of groundwater and neighboring wells, unbeknownst to the district.
Most individual sanitary disposal systems (ISDS) need some repair before the age of
30 years, and dip tests are recommended on a three- to five-year schedule. Although many homeowners subscribe to proper maintenance of systems, others may be unaware.
The district tossed around an inspection program to curb groundwater contamination that could further endanger Grand County’s lakes.
John Stahl, new Three Lakes District Board president, said he had been unprepared for members’ discord.
“None of the board members were aware of the level of disenfranchisement that (the taxpayers) felt,” Stahl said. “If I hadn’t been communicated with in 22 years, I guess I would be upset with issues, too.”
The most senior member of the Three Lakes Board have served for about five years.
Immediately after the meeting, board members brainstormed possible ways to serve septic taxpayers, such as tailoring the budget to better reflect septic owners and implementing new technology that can now service multiple homes unable to connect to a public system. Stahl also directed the district’s attorney to look into how certain areas could be excluded from the tax rolls. One of the board members is a septic user, prompting the board to talk about forming a subcommittee that represents the septic community, appointing that board member as chairman.
Since out-of-county disposal transportation costs greatly add to the cost of pumping a septic tank, Stahl said another idea would be to explore having a collection point at the district’s existing sanitation facility to help save homeowners money. Taking advice from constituents, the chairman said he also aims to increase “communication and education” for septic users, as well as hold more district meetings.
In that vein, board member Froehlich agreed to take citizens’ discontentment with the district as a learning opportunity.
“We can try to capture the passion of this and move forward to something positive,” he said.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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