Westminster water rates shot down

Westminster City Council votes 5-1 to deny city water rate recommendations

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Westminster water and sewer rates won’t go up next year by 3.9 and 5.5. percent, respectively, Westminster City Council decided at a June 14 meeting.

Five members of the city council voted against city staff’s recommendations for 2022 water rates, the subject at the center of a months-long political controversy. Mayor Anita Seitz was the only remaining supporter of the rate recommendations and when she realized that fact, she became emotional.

Getting choked up, the mayor said before the formal vote was taken, “I’m also bound by my conscience to serve my community to the best of my ability,” Seitz said while choking up.

The mayor’s yes vote was met by dissent from Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott and Councilors Lindsey Smith, Rich Seymour, Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz. Before, Skulley and Voelz have been seen as allies with Seitz on various issues, including water rates.

Seitz, Skulley and Voelz haven’t had identical stances on rates, but they, and former Mayor Herb Atchison, were targets of a recall campaign over water rates. The Westminster Water Warriors procured enough petition signatures to trigger recall elections against Atchison and Voelz. Atchison resigned in early May and Voelz will face the recall election on July 20.

The Water Warriors have criticized Atchison, Seitz, Skulley and Voelz for either supporting water rate increases or not supporting water rate decreases. The other three councilors have either advocated for lowering rates or keeping them the same, placing them in the Water Warriors’ favor.

Between October and January, the council held six study sessions to review city the utility infrastructure and its financing and to give staff direction for the 2022 rate-setting process. Staff eventually settled on the 3.9 and 5.5 percent increases after deciding to draw cash from reserves and defer capital projects. To the city, the recommendations were the lowest possible rate the city could afford and still be able to finance necessary capital improvements. The city’s biggest utilities priority is replacing the Semper Water Treatment Facility.

Staff first presented the rate recommendations to the council at a March 15 study session. Skulley was supportive of the rates despite having some concerns, Voelz didn’t express an opinion.

However, by the June 14 meeting, Skulley and Voelz decided they were opposed to the recommendations. Both cited financial strain on residents caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as their reasoning.

Skulley and Voelz didn’t indicate if their votes were related to the political controversy surrounding rates, although the Water Warriors believe it was. “Surprise Skulley and Voelz voted no on the water rate increase. A transparent effort to save their re-election efforts?” the recall group said on Facebook.

The mayor also touched on the political situation. “It is easy to vote no on this, to not raise rates. That would be a politically expedient choice. But I feel that it would be irresponsible and put my own ease above the long-term health of this community,” Seitz said.

After Seitz finished her comments, Skulley said, “Mayor, I just want to say thank you for your courage. I understand your points.” Then there was roll call.

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