Water group forms

Citizens for Consolidation support authority agreement

— With less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 5 election, a group has formed in support of the water authority agreement.

More than 30 members make up the Citizens for Consolidation, a group of former City Council members and residents who live in both the city and Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District.

Helping head the group is former Councilwoman Paula Black who said the group believes one water and sewer entity makes sense for one community and water and sewer rate equalization will never occur between the mountain area and town until consolidation occurs.

"We have to have a single entity to deal with a single community," Black said. "Without consolidation, there is no chance in ever reaching equalization in terms of water rates. They will grow farther apart and the city will charge more and more."

Before residents are asked to vote on the water agreement merging the city and Mount Werner's water and sewer system, Black said the group would be fund-raising and placing ads in support of the consolidation.

Black said other former council members include Mary Brown, Pete Wither, Pat Gleason, John Holloway and Steve Weinland. All the former members, Black said, have been on past councils that have tried to negotiate a consolidation with Mount Werner Water.

Black said the group formed earlier this week to counter the misinformation the opposition was putting out to the community.

Even before the council had approved the question of forming a water authority on November's ballot, an opposition group had formed.

Former Councilman Jim Engelken registered the campaign with the city's clerk office on July 8.

Along with Engelken, former council members Kevin Bennett, Bill Martin, Ken Brenner and John Ross have all spoken out against the agreement.

They claim it would never allow for the equalization of rates, give the water authority board too much power and allow the board to not be held accountable to the City Council.

The opposition has also called into question past deals Mount Werner Water has done and said the city's intent of taking politics out of operating a water entity is not going to happen under the agreement.

But Black said those concerns are unwarranted. She compared the appointed water authority board to the Board of Adjustments or Planning Commission and said the only time the board would have power over the council would be when there is not enough water to serve an area.

"I think one thing that is misinterpreted is that the board will have extraordinary power over the City Council. That is not in our state law or our city charter," Black said.

District President and 37-year member of the board Don Valentine also spoke in favor of the agreement Wednesday. Valentine called many of the oppositions' accusations inaccurate and ill informed.

Valentine said the district has not made sweetheart deals to developers as the opposition has implied.

"That has never been a reality. If you wanted to go back and go through all the minutes, you would never find anything in there from any of the board members that gave advantage to themselves or friends of theirs that might have been developers," Valentine said.

Opponents claim the Sheraton Golf Course receives a 99 percent discount for the 62 million gallons of water it receives a year from the district.

And under the water authority agreement, those types of deals are accepted and nothing prevents it from happening.

Although the contract would allow the golf course to ask for more water, it did not ask for more during this summer's drought.

He also said the district has not been subsidized by the city. The opposition has claimed the city has subsidized the district in millions of dollars by releasing millions of gallons of its stored water before Mount Werner Water built its own storage facility in the early 1990s.

But Valentine said much of the water the city released belonged to the district.

He said at that time, the city stored the water coming from the Fish Creek Reservoir and the district had first rights on that water in Fish Creek.

He said the district did not need stored water and it would request that the city release water the district had flow rights on.

"There were times that they used our flow rights. There could have been times we used city stored water," Valentine said. "But it wasn't millions of dollars in subsidies."

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