Fee increase

Ordinance review proposes higher water, sewer connection costs

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Any homebuilder who wants flushing toilets or a shower drain that leads to the city sewer system should be prepared to pay more if changes to water and wastewater ordinances are approved by Craig City Council.

One possible change increases the sewer tap fee from $1,000 to $2,000. A tap fee is the charge builders pay when they want to extend a city service from the street to a home.

People who live outside the city limits and have access to city-owned utility services could see a large fee increase. City officials plan to charge out-of-city residents double.

Those wanting to build in the city will pay $3,750 to tap into water and sewer lines and those outside city limits will pay $7,500.

"This places the burden of new development on new developers, not existing taxpayers," Craig Mayor Dave DeRose said.

Both the water fund and the wastewater fund are enterprise funds, meaning they are supported fully by fees.

"I don't see where making new development pay for itself is a problem," Coun-cilor Natalie Alden said.

Craig Mayor and master plumber Dave DeRose led city staff to evaluate and rewrite several city water and wastewater department ordinances. DeRose, after several years working with the city water and sewer system, delivered a memo to City Council and staff members with recommended changes to ordinances.

Council members discussed the ordinance changes Tuesday night at a workshop.

Most changes bring the ordinances into compliance with state code and help bring uniformity to the water and sewer systems.

"We've eliminated the double talk that's never used, the legalese and garbage," Water and Wastewater Department Supervisor Joe Theaman said. "The major changes are just bringing the ordinance up to code and eliminating the confusion. When people want something done, it's a lot quicker this way."

The most dramatic changes, Public Works Director Bill Early said, are the tap fee increase, an ordinance in which the city accepts ownership of existing water service lines from the main to the curb stop and a proposed availability of service fee.

"We're attempting to come up with some fairness, but [the changes] might not be politically acceptable," he said.

Service fee

Council members said they knew they are entering politically dangerous territory when considering an "availability of service" fee, but will implement it to be "fair" to all customers.

According to the proposed ordinance, a monthly fee will be charged to the owner of every vacant structure, apartment or trailer connected to the city wastewater system even if it has disconnected service. The fee will be $6.25 for sewer availability and $8.80 for water availability.

This will mainly impact "snowbirds" people who live in Craig in the summer, but leave in the winter.

Currently, whenever leaving a home or business for a significant amount of time, people can pay $10 to have their service disconnected while they are gone. This prevents them from paying a monthly base rate of $13.55 for sewer service and the $14.20 fee for water service.

With the proposed ordinance change, people will pay the reduced monthly fee even if service is disconnected.

"Whether they use that line or not, it still costs the city money to maintain those lines," Early said. "The revenue is fairly minimal. It's just the issue of fairness."

City staff members said charging a fee for "availability of service" is done in most towns across the state and by both Greeley Gas and Yampa Valley Electric Company.

"They said it's politically volatile, but I'm not sure this is going to affect that many people," City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Right of entry

Another change residents might see is a limitation on the right of city officials to access private property. The original ordinance allows all employees of the city to have access to all premises or rights-of-way at anytime when it is necessary to find the location or condition of any parts of the water or sewer system.

This ordinance has not been changed and Councilor Bill Johnston believes it should be.

"We have to look at it from a constitutional point of view," he said. "These things should be worded so that rights are protected."

The city attorney will consider changes to that ordinance.

Septic requirements

Council members are also stepping into a politically difficult realm by considering requiring city residents with septic systems to pull out that system and connect to the city sewer system.

"Should the city sewer system not exist to serve the property, it is the responsibility of the property owner to extend the sewer main to their property line," the proposed ordinance states.

That ordinance met with heavy opposition from Council members. It was decided that only when a septic system failed would a resident be required to tap into the city system. In that case, it will be the responsibility of the city to extend the sewer line.

Council members will continue discussions on March 28. None of these changes will be made official until drafted into ordinance form and voted on by Council twice during regular, monthly public meetings.

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