by Rick Langenberg:
Despite a few minor objections, Cripple Creek elected leaders have taken the first step in issuing a substantial 33 percent rate hike in water rates from current fees.
Still, the city council maintained that most residents have known this day is coming and that the extra money would be used for needed capital improvements and to run their utilities agency more like a business. And in reality, they say that Cripple Creek residents are receiving one heck of a deal, compared to other municipalities.
With the additional rate increase, expected to be implemented in early April, the city will take in an additional $91,000 a year. A few residents didn’t complain about the town’s current rate structure during a recent hearing, but they wanted to develop a system that better rewards customers who conserve water and only use a fraction of the minimum base amount of 8,000 gallons per month. “A lot of people up here are on fixed incomes,” said Vincent Thoms, in arguing against including all residents into the $20 per month category. “We are not complaining (about the rates),” added Lee Goldman. But the two residents, who are frequent speakers at council meetings, asked about some type of compensation for home owners and renters, who only use 2,000 or 3,000 gallons per month. They noted that if the city’s purpose behind its new rate structure is to promote conservation, then what about offering a helping hand for those who don’t even use the minimum threshold of water.
In addition, they asked about the city’s policy of selling water to the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine Company and wondered if this jeopardizes the town’ future supply of H2O. And what about dealing with local properties that don’t have water meters? Are they getting a better deal?
The city leaders, though, didn’t see how they can make any adjustment for residents that went below the 8,000 gallon level. According to the proposed rate structure, residents will pay $15 a month for their initial 8,000 monthly gallon use and then pay a higher percentage rate for water usage that exceeds that level. Plus, they will pay a $5 monthly fee for future capital improvements. This fee was tacked onto the bills of residents in the past, but then was rescinded in the late 1990s.
For some time, Cripple Creek residents haven’t come close to paying their fair share, based on the costs of handling the service, according to officials. Instead, the gaming industry and city hall has mostly picked up the tab. “We are getting 70 cents on the dollar,” admitted Jim Blasing, the city’s head water and wastewater official in explaining the business realities of the way the service has run in the past. City Attorney Lee Phillips advised the council that the town’s rates are more than fair, noting that his sewer bills in the city of Fairplay (where Phillips has a business office) are more than three times the combined water and wastewater fees of Cripple Creek.
This theme of historic low rates was stressed during the Jan. 16 hearing. “That would be a logistical nightmare,” complained Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner, in handling rates differently for each resident, in responding to the request of Thoms and Goldman. “We are blessed (regarding our low rates), but we need to build a little insurance policy. We still need to look at the reality of it.”
As for some of the other residential concerns, Blasing told the council that the only properties not metered are those on vacant lots, which have been shut off from service. He also stressed that city residents receive top priority in any future dealings with the mine. Unlike many small municipalities in the area, Cripple Creek is blessed with an ample supply of physical water through its reservoirs and wells, not to mention its rich supply of H2O rights. As a result, the city is in a position to sell some of its allotment of water to the mine and even neighboring cities like Canon City.