Utility bill sticker shock finally has arrived in Durango.
City utility bills sent last week reflected the rate increases for sewer and water service approved by the Durango City Council in December.
The average household’s total increase for water and sewer services will be about $22.60 per month in the winter. Sewer services will increase on average 64 percent, from $21.39 to $35.13 per month. The average household’s water rate will increase 37 percent, from $24.23 per month to an estimated $33.13.
These increases were approved to fund millions in sewer and water infrastructure improvements.
Since the bills were sent, the city has been fielding a flurry of inquiries about the changes.
“Our phone has been pretty busy this week,” said Julie Brown, city finance director.
The No. 1 question has been online bill pay. Customers can’t pay bills online right now, but that service should be available before the bills are due March 12.
The service currently is unavailable because the city is using a new billing software, Brown said.
The automatic bill payment service however remains functional.
The late fee also has sparked questions, she said. The $10 late fee will not be not assessed until 30 days after the bills are due. This fee has been in place for years.
Incorrect information about when the late fee applies was printed in the most recent bill.
The bills did include a new base-rate charge for water. All customers now pay a flat rate based on their meter size. Most residential customers pay about $12, but there are some who owe about $30 because their meter sizes are larger.
In addition to the new base rate, the city introduced a new tiered structure that charges customers more based on increased use. As a result, some customers have seen their water bills decline, Brown said.
Initially, consultants with Willdan Financial Services suggested increasing rates enough to boost water-fund revenue by 114 percent and sewer-fund revenue by 100 percent.
“The models were outrageous for working people, retirees and for young families,” said Mayor Sweetie Marbury.
The councilors decided to phase in rates in the coming years, but the most recent increase will be the biggest.
“This is the largest hit that residents will feel,” she said.
Consultants recommended the city grow the sewer-fund revenue by 25 percent in both 2016 and 2017, which would require additional rate increases for residents.
Similarly, water-fund revenue needs to increase by 32 percent in 2016, according to a rate study consultants completed for the City Council.