Wellington Makes a Decision on Water and Wastewater Rates

Wellington's wastewater plant, photo courtesy of Town of Wellington

Annie Lindgren | North Forty News 

The Town of Wellington Water and Wastewater conversations found resolution at the February 8, 2022 Board of Trustees Meeting. After months of serious consideration on behalf of staff, trustees, and community participants, a plan is in place for 2022. 

Wellington residents and business owners will not be seeing an increase in water rates at this time. The Town has decided to maintain the current rates and tiers established in October of 2020 and January of 2021. They accomplished this through a General Fund transfer of $653,000 to the Water fund, through 2021 Water fund operational savings of $400,000, and through continuing to identify operational efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities. They also decided to use the available $2.6 million American Rescue Fund Act (ARPA) Tranche II funds towards the water fund. 

While many are struggling with the significant base rate increase we experienced in 2021, there is relief in knowing it won’t be increasing anymore at this time. Huge thanks to everyone involved for finding solutions that lessen the impact on our water bills.

Folks will start seeing changes in sewer rates, beginning with the May billing statements.

Sewer base rates and usage rates have remained the same since 2016. That is $20.63 for up to 3,000 gallons and an additional $6.50 per thousand gallons over that. Starting in April of 2022, that base rate will go up to $31, with the additional usage rate of $10 per thousand gallons over 3,000 gallons. An example bill for an average resident using 4,000 gallons of water shows a change from $122.70 a month to $136.57 a month, including water, sewer, and storm fees.

The plan is for a stepped base and usage rate increase with a 5% annual increase to base and tier rates for the subsequent three years. In 2023 folks can expect another increase to $44 for the base rate and $13 for the amount per thousand gallons over 3,000. However, a utility rate study will happen before this Year 2 projection is finalized. This plan included a $390,000 General Fund transfer to the Sewer Fund, and there will be a shortfall in the Town fund balance reserve that will remedy with time and should be back above the red line in 2026.

Construction on the Wastewater plant will begin mid-2022. The goals for this project are that the capacity for the Wastewater treatment plant expansion must align with the Water Treatment Plant expansion, and the new Wastewater plant will meet the more stringent compliance standards. The project is set for completion in mid-2024 when the new plant should be ready for processing our sewage.

The next steps are for the Town is to engage in a comprehensive rate study happening in 2022. Water and Sewer usage rates, impact fees, and indirect costs will be evaluated. The goal is to ensure an equitable impact on residential and non-residential customers and plan annual reviews and updates into the future. In addition, the Town is continuing to support and promote the Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) and the Water Efficiency Program and is looking into other financial solutions.

Of the above action items, seven came as recommendations from the Resident Roundtable. As a reminder, the Town utilized a Resident Roundtable committee comprised of local citizens, business owners, community organization representatives, and Town staff to help find solutions to this wastewater conundrum. Committee members attended the trustee meeting Tuesday night. They shared feedback of ‘thanks’ to the Town Board and assurance to citizens in the audience that the Town is genuinely listening. 

Trustees and Town staff faced many difficult decisions throughout this process, and almost all came to a consensus that this decision was the best of the worst-case scenarios. As a result, all of the trustees and mayor voted ‘yes,’ except for Jon Gaiter, who voted ‘no,’ and John Jerome, absent from the meeting. 

Trustee Ashley Macdonald shared a big thanks to the board, staff, and community, “It was all hands on deck, everyone contributed, and we touched on goals in all corners of the strategic plan. We have set a great example for communities around us to handle these complex issues collaboratively. Addressing water rates are just a small piece of the Town’s water challenges, and it will take the same team effort to get them worked out.”

The Rate study will look at regional trends and provide a holistic review of the water and wastewater rate needs and implications. It will answer the equity question of how to handle commercial vs. residential rates and share options on how best to proceed with future rate changes. It seems that the affordability of water and utilities is affecting Colorado in general, and it is a hot topic currently with the Colorado Municipal League. This discussion topic is far from over, so stay tuned for further details on the progression. 

These water and wastewater discussions have been a hot-button topic in the Wellington community for quite some time. As an engaged citizen of this community with a close eye on all things happening, I am impressed with how the Town has handled things. I highly encourage folks to sign up for the Town’s newsletters, follow them on social media, and attend trustee meetings for facts and resources.  

For those struggling to make ends meet with their utility bills, look into the Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) resources. Wellington households can receive $300 a year to help with their utility bills. For more information on the HUG grant and other local resources, visit wellingtoncolorado.gov.

This is a follow-up story to one published on January 23, 2022. Find that story at https://northfortynews.com/category/news/resident-roundtable-helps-wellington-solve-wastewater-problem/

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