Members of the City’s Inclusivity Board asked if City Council will make changes to all the water rates at their Jan. 12 meeting, not just the one that impacts the biggest water users.
“We are just as anxious to see something as you are,” said Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott, the city council liaison, to the board.
The Westminster City council voted in December to make the top water rate, Tier Three, the same as Tier Two. According to Andy Le, a spokesperson for the city of Westminster, only about 7,500 of the total 33,000 ratepayers reached that third tier once in 2021. That’s less than a quarter of the city’s water ratepayers.
DeMott said there is no doubt the change was inclusive.
“I object really adamantly to the idea that people who are in that third tier are in a certain income bracket,” DeMott said. “You have people who have lived decades in the same home who now all of a sudden have these huge water bills.
“To me, I want to make sure that if someone’s being responsible and just trying to take care of the property and use the amount of water they need to use that we’re not changing the rule on them and pricing them out of their home and that is the reality that we’re seeing in the city,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people I know that have decided just to move for a variety of reasons, water being one of them.”
Councilor Ezeadi disagrees. He thinks the move ignored a majority of the city.
“I knocked 11,000+ doors during my campaign, and the majority of the residents who wanted lower water rates were Tier 2, and even some in Tier 1,” he said.
Westminster charges $3.96 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons of water. That’s the first tier.
Users that used between 6,001 and 20,000 gallons – the City’s second tier – pay $8.15 for anything over 6,000 gallons. Westminster’s third tier charged those who used more than 20,000 gallons $12.88 per 1,000 gallons for anything over 20,000 gallons.
That third tier is the one the City Council reduced in December.
A Drop in the Bucket
City Councilor Rich Seymour said that this was the first of many steps the council will take on solving the city’s water issue.
“It was easy to identify and quantify that singular impact because it was for a small spectrum,” he said. “At the same time that was being done, Councilor Baker and I authored an email with some other ideas and requests that we should be seeing (Jan. 24) that took a considerable amount more time to investigate and give us those financial impacts.”
At this point, Seymour foresees the third tier remaining suspended throughout the summer.
“I would say that it’s not only tier three, it’s tier three is what we’ve done so far,” said DeMott.
According to Le, lowering the third tier will cost the city about $750,000. He said lowering other tiers will cost the city more, which is the reason city staff only presented this solution to the council.
“Staff needed additional time to analyze impacts to city operations and capital improvements project needs,” Le said.
Le said that staff has prepared a rate analysis and will present an update to the council on Jan. 24.
DeMott said he is interested in looking at the tiers, and possibly expanding tier two because he understands the balancing act between conservation and making water affordable.
“A better balance, I guess, is the long-term solution that I’m looking for,” he said.
Ezeadi thinks all the research done by city staff and outside auditors needs to be reviewed by the council, and he points to the ‘dilapidated’ Semper Water Treatment Plant council toured earlier this month.
“I’m grateful to my colleagues that we are all committed to a data-driven exploration of all of our options,” he said. “I would like for us to evaluate research on both sides of the coin: revenue generation and cost of infrastructure.”
Conflict of Interest?
Residents that attended the Jan. 12 meeting said councilors need to settle the water rate question.
Carol Campbell, a resident of Westminster and a former 33-year employee for the Environmental Protection Agency, said it does not make sense for the city to reward residents for using over 20,000 gallons of water per month.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me that you would knee jerk for a small percentage of people, and granted they’re noisy, but a small percentage of people who don’t know what they’re talking about, and want to use 20,000 gallons of water a month. Why should we be rewarding them?” Campbell said.
She thinks that education is important when it comes to water rates.
“Why are we doing this? Why is it costing more? Hey guys, look around. Is there a drought? Yes. Did you just notice we had a bad fire that a lot of people lost their houses? Yeah,” she said.
Campbell also noted that some of the city councilors who voted in favor of suspending the tier three water rates benefitted themselves.
“The counselors themselves, some of them like Bruce Baker, have these huge yards,” she said. “So, he’s benefited himself by that vote.”
Lori Goldstein, a resident of Westminster, also thinks that lowering the tier structure is bad for the city, and threatens the quality of water Westminster has.
“The reason the water rates were put there in the first place was to have a long-term plan of what kind of water we have, what kind of quality we have and what kinds of facilities that we have to purify our water,” she said.
Most importantly, Goldstein points to the effect the water rates debate has had on the city.
“I think this has really caused a lot of damage, I think to the culture of our city with the bipolarization of the water issue,” she said.