County residents who live just on the edge of town and pay double sewer rates than city dwellers may not get relief after the Durango City Council decided to postpone a review of the issue until 2019.
In December, the county residents connected to city sewer lines expressed their frustration to councilors, who then promised to examine the issue.
“We are acutely aware we have raised the rates very steeply,” Mayor Dick White said at the time.
But councilors decided this week that they will not revisit the issue until the city does a rate study in 2019 that will provide a comprehensive review of what all residents pay.
“It just keeps getting worse,” said Juliane Mortello, a resident on County Road 203.
In 2018, most residents who live in the city limits will pay a $18.65 base charge and $10.43 for every 1,000 gallons of water used. County residents with taps of a similar size will pay a $36.19 base charge and $20.24 for every 1,000 gallons of water used.
County residents are charged more for city sewer because the city spends more on maintenance on lines outside city limits, City Operations Director Levi Lloyd told councilors this week.
The city serves 465 sewer customers outside city limits. If the city eliminated the higher rate for county residents, it would incur a $391,000 deficit needed to pay for a sewage treatment plant currently under construction near Santa Rita Park, Lloyd said.
To raise the $391,000, all users would have to pay an average of $5.40 more per month. If the differential rate was reduced to 1.5 times what city customers pay, the average monthly increase to all users would be $2.92 per month.
The average city sewer bill for city residents is expected to be about $49.94 in 2018.
Councilor Sweetie Marbury expressed some empathy for county residents who pay twice as much for their service.
“When they doubled it 50 or 60 years ago, everything was super cheap,” she said.
In 2017, Whit Richardson paid about $158 per month for city sewer service at his house on County Road 203, just north of city limits.
“That seems just outrageous,” he said.
The national average for sewer service is $479 per year, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Divided over a year, that’s about $40 per month.
Mortello, Richardson’s neighbor, said her monthly rate increased from $25 per month in 2013 to $78 per month in 2017.
“It’s just extortion,” she said.
Mortello said when she has taken her concerns to the city council, she has felt largely dismissed.
The high rates are particularly hard on some low-income residents living in the county, she said.
“They are taking an entire week’s worth of groceries out of someone’s mouth,” she said.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc explained to city councilors that, in many cases, the city took over failing special waste-water districts in the county and is now paying to upgrade those systems.
“We haven’t forced anybody on our sewer; they have asked to come on,” LeBlanc said.
Lloyd said the practice of charging residents outside city limits a higher rate for services, such as sewer, has been challenged in court and found to be legal.