Councilors settled a long-simmering issue with water rates Feb. 28, reducing rates for residential customers.
“Tonight is a wonderful night because we are going to do something about the water rates,” said City Councilor Bruce Baker who campaigned on the issue last fall.
The Westminster city council voted 5-2 on Feb. 28 to lower water rates starting June 1. Councilors Sarah Nurmela and Obi Ezeadi stood opposed.
Councilors voted to change both the bracket for water used and the pricing tiers.
For the city’s lowest pricing tier, the price per gallon was reduced and the amount of water used increased by 2,000 gallons. Previously, customers paid $3.96 per 1,000 gallons of water used per month for the first 6,000 gallons. Beginning June 1, they’ll pay a lower $3.57 per 1,000 gallons used each month for the first 8,000 gallons, according to Westminster spokesman Andy Le.
Councilors had already made the price per gallon the same for the middle and top tiers, $8.15 per 1,000 gallons used per month. Now, councilors are reducing the middle tier’s price to $6.52 per 1,000 gallons and expanding the top limit. Previously, the second tier covered customers that used between 6,001 gallons and 20,000 gallons. Now, that tier will include customers who use between 8,001 and 40,000 gallons, Le said.
The price per gallon for the top tier remains at $8.15 per 1,000 gallons used per month. But while the amount for that tier covered customers who used more than 20,000 gallons per month before, it covers customers who uses more than 40,000 gallons per month beginning in June.
Le said every single home in Westminster will see their water bill reduced and the rate model will preserve the utility’s 10-year capital improvement program to maintain the city’s existing water infrastructure.
He also said that the program will begin June 1, given the city’s ability to program the changes to their system by then. If not, the changes will be made retroactively.
According to the agenda, the move will result in approximately $4,100,000 in reduced revenues.
The reduced rates comes after a year of debate surrounding water. Former Mayor Anita Seitz and former city councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz survived recall efforts because of their support of the previous water rates and tiers.
Then, Baker won the election in November, with lowering water rates as a big portion of his campaign.
On Dec. 21, Westminster city council voted 5-2 to make the top rate equal to the middle rates.
“This by no means is the end of the conversation,” Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott.
To provide residents relief by the summer, he said the council came up with this approach through collaboration with city staff. He said the majority of city staff and council saw this as a good move.
City Councilor Lindsey Emmons emphasized this is a 2022 decision, not a long-term decision.
Nurmela said the council needed more information before making this decision. She’s concerned about using the general fund to help pay for the lower rates.
“We are dipping into (general fund revenues) in order to help pay for these water reductions,” she said. “That to me means that we are not a utility that is self-sufficient, instead we are subsidizing that utility with other tax revenues that are coming into the city. If we are going to do that, maybe we have to go back to the community and ask for another percent tax increase to pay for that service.”
She also said that while some members of the community have put pressure on council to lower water rates, it’s not the entire community.
“I’m not opposed to lower rates, but we have to be thinking about how we will pay for them, because we have to pay for them,” she said. “It’s not that we get to get reduced rates and magically our utility adjusts to that.”
Nurmela voiced concern about whether lowering these rates is sustainable due to the amount of money the city is using to subsidize the rates and whether the quality of water will be maintained.
DeMott noted that at the study session on Feb. 22, council talked through five different options for balancing reduced rates and financial impact to the city. The road to this decision resulted in each councilor not receiving everything they wanted, he said.
“We have to look long term, but right now we have to get through this summer,” said Mayor Nancy McNally.
“There’s some days I just think when you have everyone mad at you, maybe you’re making a good decision,” she said. “I know we’re making it carefully.”