Scott Wedel: Rate increase wrong
Steamboat Springs — Today, the Oak Creek Town Board is scheduled to approve a 10 percent across-the-board increase to water rates. This simply is wrong, and the good residents of Oak Creek should not tolerate it. The rate increase is projected to bring in about $40,000 in additional revenues.
Town Hall is budgeted to transfer $27,788 from the water utility in “management fees” to the general fund. That fee simply is skimming money off the top for general fund items. It is in addition to paying for a portion of public works employee salaries, town staff, reimbursing for a portion of Town Hall costs and so on.
This skimming of $27.788 off the top of revenues has been described as profit by the Town Board. It is also the equivalent of a 4 mill property tax increase without voter approval.
The Town of Oak Creek has no right to take a profit from its operation of water utility. More than eight years ago, a Department of Local Affairs consultant came to a Town Board meeting and was surprised to learn Oak Creek did not use water meters for billing commercial accounts.
According to him, Oak Creek was the only water district in the state that didn’t use water meters to determine usage to bill commercial accounts. Eight years later, Oak Creek still does not utilize usage determined by water meters for billing commercial accounts.
The town’s long history of mismanagement and transfer from the water department have increased costs for the water department. I estimate its water mains lose 100,000 gallons of water per day, each day of the year. The draft of its comprehensive plan states “current estimated levels of 350 gallons per person per day.”
According to the USGS, average water usage in the USA is 80 to 100 gallons per day. I do not think the residents are extremely wasteful, but the town’s water mains are leaking a lot of water. Through the past 10 years, the town has not scheduled the replacement of a single foot of water main.
Thus, I suggest that the residents of Oak Creek appear at today’s Town Board meeting and insist the town forego siphoning money from the water department to the general fund until, at minimum, the town establishes a good record of managing the water department.
The town also has refused to charge high water usage marijuana grow operations more than the minimum commercial rate charged to real estate offices or secondhand stores. Thus, an 8,000-square-foot marijuana grow will pay $82 per month while a one-bedroom apartment will pay $55 per month, so residential users are currently subsidizing commercial marijuana grow operations. That is wrong.
The town should create a commercial rate category for marijuana grow operations. It is likely a commercial marijuana grow operation uses several times more water than a one-bedroom apartment, so I suggest a monthly rate of $400 per month for commercial marijuana grow operations. And that removes the need to increase residential rates to continue subsidizing marijuana grow operations.
Foregoing the skimming of water department revenues into the town’s general fund and ending the subsidy of marijuana growers is a better and more just alternative to raising everyone’s rates by 10 percent.
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