Candidates for sanitation board agree: Rates stink

All three challengers seeking a seat on the Cortez Sanitation District board indicated the agency’s new rate structure might need to be flushed.

On April 1, The Cortez Journal emailed a questionnaire to all five candidates, including incumbents Dave Waters and David Kimble and challengers Ray Fox, Tim Robinson and Ryan Griglak. Question 7 sought their thoughts on the new rate structure adopted at the beginning of the year, and the measures they’d propose to ensure customers were billed fairly and accurately. All but Kimble replied to the full survey.

Griglak, a 41-year-old licensed engineer, had the most to say in his 199-word reply. One of his concerns for the new rate structure was the lack of water conservation practices for businesses or residences.

“In our area, where water resources are precious, there should be an incentive to reduce overall water use,” Griglak wrote.

Griglak was also in agreement with Fox and Robinson, who all challenged the fairness of the new rate structure, especially for commercial customers.

“Many businesses in Cortez are highly seasonal and do not have a steady demand for their services over the course of the year,” Griglak said. “With the new structure, these seasonal businesses may have had their rates disproportionately increased.”

Fox, a 48-year-old construction worker and former Marine, said the CSD’s flat-rate system limits small businesses in particular.

“I definitely think a more structured rate for businesses should be considered,” said Fox. “A tiered and consumption-based structure would be helpful.”

Tim Robinson, a 41-year-old small-business manager, believes a sliding scale based on annual usage could be utilized. A hotel, for example, might be at 50 percent occupancy in the winter, but is still required to pay the sewer bill that it would at full capacity, he said.

“Usage should be part of the rate structure for business,” Robinson said. “From what I see, the rate structure really hurt local business, and it needs to be addressed with some kind of change.”

Enacted Jan. 1, CSD’s 2014 commercial sewer fees are determined based on six classifications. While most new business rates are based on square footage, hotel fees are linked to total number of units, hospital charges are connected to total number of beds and schools, and daycare centers are subject to total student capacity. (New rates for the Cortez Journal are determined based on total number of employees.)

Before the rate change, CSD officials billed customers based on consumption using water-usage data from the city, but CSD officials claim the city’s numbers were too unreliable for proper billing.

CSD approved the rate hike after a $25,000 engineering study, which suggested commercial customers be awarded a Single Family Equivalency (SFE) ratio based on 1994 American Water Works Association guidelines. The SFE ratio is multiplied by the square footage, number of employees or number of beds, for example, which is then multiplied by $30 to determine the monthly sewer rate.

Under the new rate structure, CSD projects to collect more than $2.1 million in service fees in 2014, an increase of more than $77,000 over 2013 revenues. CSD’s total operating expenditures in 2014 are projected at nearly $1.6 million.

Each candidate is seeking one of three four-year posts on the CSD board.

Casey McClellan also attempted to enter the campaign, but his candidate application was denied because he is not an individual CSD customer, he said.

“You must own property within the sanitation district that pays taxes to the district, and the property must be in the candidate’s personal name,” McClellan said. “My property is an LLC, and I didn’t realize this was an issue until my paperwork was submitted.”

Allocated a full week to complete the questionnaires, all the candidates were informed that their responses were subject to editing due to space limitations in print, but all were promised each of the questionnaires would be published at CortezJournal.com in their entirety without any editing.

Waters, the current CSD board president, requested his replies to the questionnaire be withheld from the story, citing he didn’t want his remarks edited. His unedited replies, along with the other candidates, are available online at CortezJournal.com.

Mail-in ballots will decide the Cortez Sanitation District election. Ballots are required to be mailed to voters by April 21.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com