Water and sewer rates are expected to change next year as the Durango City Council considers changing policy to make the cost difference between customers living in and outside city limits more equitable.
City Council this week offered preliminary approval of a new water and sewer rate structure for the 2020 budget, reducing the cost of sewer usage for out-of-city water customers but making water rates a bit more expensive for county residents connected to city infrastructure. The inverse is true for in-town customers – sewer rates may increase and water rates may decrease.
Durango water customers just outside city limits currently pay the same rates as in-town users, but water rates for out-of-town users may increase by 15% next year. At the same time, rates for people flushing into Durango’s sewer system from outside city limits are expected to decrease by 85%, a fractional cost to be borne by in-city users.
The City Council also supported increasing sewer rates across the board by 3% and decided – by a split vote – to not increase water rates. City Councilors Chris Bettin and Dean Brookie voted against the new water rates for 2020. Both argued water rates must continue to rise at a steady rate to sustain infrastructure.
“Water rates are not optional,” Bettin said before voting no. “We’re doing a disservice to the community.”
A 2019 water and wastewater rate and fee study, the catalyst behind the rate changes, suggested a 3% annual increase to sewer rates and a 2% annual increase to sewer rates to maintain infrastructure and construct a new water-treatment plant.
Much of the revenue from sewer fees is dedicated to paying debt on the new $58 million wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita Park, according to staff. The Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility is, to date, the most expensive public-funded project in the city’s history.
Mayor Melissa Youssef said in September that she “struggled” with the amount of unspent money sitting in the water fund’s coffers – about $17 million. The council, at the time, requested more information about how staff plan to spend the money it has saved over the years.
The City Council is scheduled to make a final decision on water and sewer rates at a Nov. 19 public meeting, said City Clerk Amy Phillips.