City moves on water agreement

— Voters in the city could be going to the polls Aug. 6 to determine the fate of a plan to create a new authority to oversee water and wastewater treatment services in Steamboat Springs.

The City Council agreed Tuesday night to conduct the first reading June 4 of an ordinance leading to the election. If the ordinance passes second reading on June 18, it would trigger the special election to amend the City's Home Rule Charter. The plan would create a new entity, the Steamboat Springs Water Authority.

Currently, some city residents get their drinking water from the city water department and others get it from Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. But the two entities have long shared facilities Mount Werner Water is responsible for filtering drinking water for both sets of customers, and the city operates the wastewater treatment plant.

City Council President Kathy Connell said consolidating the services under one board and realizing the resulting efficiencies is in the best interests of local residents.

"This is the right thing to do, because this is the right thing for the community," Connell said.

Consolidation was the subject of many meetings in the late 90s, but the talks fell apart after years of trying. The renewed process took just five meetings between April 4 and May 20, Connell said.

Connell said the city and the water district have just a few practical issues to reach consensus on before presenting the text of an agreement that would govern the creation of the authority. Under the agreement, Mount Werner Water would dissolve, Connell said and the city's water and wastewater treatment functions would be transferred to the authority.

The authority would be governed by a board of seven people. The initial board would have three members appointed by the City Council and four appointed by the Mount Werner Board. The terms of those original members would expire in 2004, 2005 and 2006. After the initial terms, all seven board positions on the authority would by appointed by the city council to renewable four-year terms.

Connell said the agreement provides that the authority will have control over all water and wastewater matters within the city and the urban growth boundary of the city.

Former City Councilman Ken Brenner expressed concern over the rapid pace at which the city has moved toward creation of the new authority. He wondered out loud if the community would have sufficient time to digest the provisions of the agreement.

Connell responded that the agreement would be included in the council agenda packet, available to the public May 31. And the ordinance won't be final until second reading on June 18.

"In matters of new development, the city will impose all authority recommendations 'which are reasonably based upon best water filtration and distribution and wastewater collection and treatment engineering practices,'" Connell wrote in a report to her fellow council members.

The authority would give city council a detailed report at least once annually, and any future rate increases would require "economic justification and analysis."

The authority would be able to issue revenue bonds, and, with council approval and an election, general obligation bonds.

Historically, the water district and the city have had different rate structures, and Connell anticipated those discrepancies would remain for a time after the authority is created.

"I don't want the public to perceive that the minute this thing happens there are going to be rate changes up, down or anywhere," Connell said.

However, the intent is to move toward charging the same rates for water throughout the city.

The timetable anticipated by Connell includes, creation of the authority and appointment of the board as soon as Aug. 16. A dissolution vote in the Mount Werner Water district would tentatively take place Dec. 3., with an effective date of January 2003.

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