By Sandy Barnes
Members of the Town’s finance committee took another close look at the proposed two percent increase in utility rates at the Wednesday, Oct. 29 meeting.
“I’m going to have to be convinced to raise rates at all,” said Trustee Jeff Hindman during the opening discussion.
“The two percent increase is very minimal,” said Town Clerk Mary Cowdin who is working with Town Administrator Jim White on the 2009 budget. “It’s minimal to users, but not to the Town,” she added.
White said he was “thrilled” that the initial proposed increases for water and wastewater service had been lowered to six and five percent after working with a financial consultant, who had previously projected 15 and 18 percent hikes in 2009.
Trustee Glen Buckingham, who serves as finance committee chairman, said the utility rates of other towns should be considered when making decisions about increases for Berthoud. However, he acknowledged the necessity for raising rates.
“I think it’s a dangerous strategy to get into, setting them at zero,” Buckingham said. “From my viewpoint, costs are going up every day.”
Delaying utility rate increases doesn’t take away the need to do necessary work, said White. “It’s something we did overlook in the past.”
While acknowledging the need to maintain the systems and to continue making payments on the debt for the water and wastewater treatment plants, finance committee members questioned a projected expense for a future water line that would be brought to Interstate 25.
“I’m looking at assumptions I have no confidence in,” said Hindman. “Do we need a $5 million line to Interstate 25?”
Mayor Tom Patterson said that extending a water line to Interstate 25 would be duplicative because the Little Thompson Water District already has one in place in that area.
“Water’s a mess,” said Buckingham. “We need a strategy on how to manage it.”
A comparative study of how Berthoud’s utility rates compare with other communities would play heavily into it, he commented.
“Part of what we’re still missing is rate comparisons,” he said. “We’re trying to solve more than the budget.”
Buckingham also asked when the Town would have to consider building a new water treatment plant and how to pay for it.
New capacity should be paid through tap fees, and utility rates should be paying for maintenance of the present facilities, said Hindman.
While discussing the possibility of additional development that could bring revenue to the Town next year, Cowdin remarked, “It would be an amazing event if we had a lot of building permits.”
Cowdin said she felt it would be “very shortsighted” to not have a two percent hike in utility rates in 2009.
“I’m not against raises, but I want real numbers,” said Hindman.