Woodland Park Council Debates Money, Cars and Aqua Perks

Rick Langenberg

The Woodland Park City Council continues to fight over money and cars, and at times, aquatic center amenities.

Last week, a rather uneventful meeting got testy regarding several mundane topics, indicating definite divisions among the current cadre of elected leaders.

Most council members appeared poised to adopt a new water and wastewater utility rate hike expected to raise the fee of an average residential customer by .52 cents a month. The annual rate hike, proposed by Utilities Director Kip Wiley, is a rather status quo action done every year to deal with inflation and to keep the costs down for water taps. In the past, these tap fees have escalated, making it tougher for the city to sell water taps at a competitive price.

“We want to stay current with inflation and keep the tab on tap fees,” said Wiley.

 As for the big picture, City Manager David Buttery said the agency tries to keep its utility rates in line with the prices of utility commodities, and in a way, that won’t jeopardize future water tap sales.    

Under the proposal, the new rate hikes would authorize an automatic increase, based on 100 percent of the annual change in the Denver/Boulder/Greeley Consumer Price Index Unit, regarded as the official inflation rate for Colorado. In the past, the annual rate hike was based on 75 percent of this price index.  

However, the idea of a price increase and even mention of any inflation rates, sanctioned by the Denver/Boulder area, had several council members crying foul.

“I don’t want to be like Denver and Boulder,” blasted Councilman Val Carr. He contended that the city is making too many financial decisions based on studies that use data from the Denver/Boulder area and related index. He doesn’t believe this is a valid comparison.

“It is the state standard,” countered Buttery, in referring to this price index.

Councilman Paul Saunier also wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a continual rate increase, period. He stated his opposition to “nickeling and diming” the community.

Both Saunier and Carr cast dissenting tallies against a utility rate increase, usually regarded as standard action every year. These are done usually to avoid big increases.

However, their views weren’t represented by the majority of council members, who agreed with Buttery and Wiley.  Councilman Noel Sawyer noted that the rate increase represents a small percentage hike.

According to Buttery, the average consumer in Woodland Park pays $63.61 cents per month for water and wastewater rates. Their fees will increase by .52 cents a month with this change, which goes into effect in early April.

Vehicle fight

The council also got into another debate last week over the proposed actions of a committee, aimed at scrutinizing the use of city vehicles.

At issue is data that the group wants from the police department to complete its task. Carr, who has headed up the group, cited the Woodland Park Police Department as a model agency for the way it operates its fleet. As a result, he said the vehicle usage review committee, would like several months of detailed vehicle use-related data from the police department, since its agency operates over 30 percent of the vehicles used by the city. This requested information, though, could put more demands on officers to track their mileage and use of certain vehicles, per incident.

Get real, responded several council members. They contended that such requests could risk emergency operations. “For me, it is not appropriate,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey. She said this could pose an unfair impact on the agency for responding to emergencies and frequent calls.

“You either want a comprehensive study or not,” replied Carr. The councilman has mentioned the study as a way to possibly trim costs by reducing the city’s current lineup of vehicles or by consolidating uses. This was one target area cited late last year, when the council tried to prepare a 2017 budget and grapple with a record-low reserve fund.        

Police Chief Miles De Young also remained skeptical about the committee request. He said the agency has experienced a 16 percent hike in calls and is under-staffed. “I need to be realistic with the (committee’s) expectations,” said the police chief.

Councilman Ken Matthews went even further questioned the purpose of the entire project. “Why are we doing this?” quetioned Matthews. “We are spending all this time for something that is not a problem.”

Buttery also expressed reservations about the request to include the police department in the study, outlining the complexity of its current fleet of 18 vehicles

In a compromise move, Carr agreed to withdraw the request and to set up a meeting with Buttery and De Young to review what vehicle information they currently have, without requiring additional staff time.

Aqua blues

And no council meetings can occur these days without a discussion on the nearly $15 million aquatic center, expected to open in October.

Much controversy has been brewing over plans for an aquatic slide, and the monies that have been privately raised for this amenity. Carr said he was getting hammered on social media from people who want to donate money for this extra amenity, or who have provided funds, but don’t want their money to be used for other purposes or squandered.  

Buttery, though, said he would try to set the record straight on this topic. He said he was confident that the funding for this slide would occur. The only question is if the slide will be part of the aquatic center, when it opens in October, according to Buttery.

During a brief presentation last week, he remained upbeat that the slide would get funded and done in time for the opening. City officials, though, have to make a firm decision on this matter by March 17 to meet the deadlines of an October opening.