Major infrastructure improvements needed across Durango, including a potential new water-treatment plant and major upgrades at the sewage-treatment plant, carry hefty price tags, the Durango City Council learned Tuesday night.
Needed improvements at the sewage plant could cost $48.5 million, while all the necessary water infrastructure upgrades could cost $58.4 million. These improvements would be scheduled over several years. But the need is pressing because the city crews have had to focus on single points of failure while major upgrades have continued to be deferred, said Steve Salka, utilities director.
With millions of dollars worth of needs on the horizon, the council also considered the need to increase monthly water and sewer rates.
The council members largely rejected an initial proposal to double water and sewer rates next year from Willdan Financial Services analysts and asked them to return with several options for raising the rates more gradually.
“People would not be happy with anyone on the City Council if we passed 100 percent rate increase,” said Mayor Sweetie Marbury.
In 2013, sewer rates were doubled to an average residential rate of $15.64 a month. Currently, residents pay on average $45.62 for water and sewer service, said Kevin Burnett, an analyst from Willdan Financial Services. A 100 percent increase for both water and sewer would push the average bill to $91.24.
However, the $48 million in necessary sewer improvements to decrease the level of inorganic nitrogen must be completed by the end of 2017, said engineer Patrick Radabaugh with Dewberry, a consulting and design firm.
This nitrogen effluent is largely responsible for creating dead zones in large bodies of water, and the state of Colorado is implementing the new regulations to limit nitrogen and combat the problem, he said.
If the city fails to make the deadline, it would go under consent order and would be unable to install any new sewer taps, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
He also presented the city’s 2015 proposed a budget that includes about $81 million in total spending, which is up from $79 million, about a 2 percent increase. Total operational expenses are proposed to decrease from $63 million to $60 million, or about 5 percent.
However, a proposed $20 million set aside for capital improvements represents a 28 percent increase from the 2014 budgeted capital expenses. It does not include any of the needed water and sewer improvements.
Airport management is proposing a $9.1 million runway resurfacing project. Officials expect the Federal Aviation Administration will cover 90 percent of the costs.
Parks & Recreation has proposed replacing a section of the Animas River Trail between Santa Rita Park and County Road 210 and one new bridge. Each project is estimated to cost more than $1 million. Also, a new maintenance shop comes with an estimated price tag of $2 million.
River trail improvements would be funded by a designated half-cent sales tax.
City streets could receive a $3.2 million boost for improvements. Several projects would be paid for out of the general fund, according to the proposed plan.
A proposed new stoplight at College Drive and East Eighth Avenue would cost $600,000.
The city also seeks to partner with residents in matching program to resurface alleys in downtown with poor drainage. LeBlanc proposed $200,000 to fund the program in it’s first year. Residents would have to cover 50 percent of the construction.
Another proposal would set aside $300,000 to help incentivize businesses to make their establishments more accessible for those with disabilities.
The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the budget during a hearing Nov. 4. The budget is expected to be passed in December.