Sewer rates

The city of Durango provides a wide range of excellent services to residents and nonresidents alike – a consistent and fortunate circumstance that makes it a responsive and effective municipality and regional hub. That role has been cemented through decades of intergovernmental cooperation. It therefore is surprising that a dispute between the city and Animas Water Co. has produced such unhappy results for some sewer customers who live outside city limits.

The city sets its sewer rates based on each household’s water consumption during a winter month – when use typically is low. But 80 or so homes just north of city limits on County Road 203 and Spring Creek Drive receive city sewer service but get water from Animas Water Co., which the city claims refuses to share its usage data. Without that information, the city is assessing an across-the-board fee on those users, based on an assumption of 5,000 gallons per month average use. That figure is derived from a Colorado Municipal League study of average household consumption.

The result, for some residents, is a big jump in fees. While that may or may not be fair, the process leading to the jump certainly does not appear to have been. The city is right to seek solid data upon which to base its rates; it is not necessarily justified in saddling users with big increases when it did not receive the data it sought. It is a little like a tantrum.

Whatever the problems are between Animas Water Co. and the city, they should be settled between the two agencies. They are the service providers, and they are the entities entrusted by their customers and constituencies to be fair, responsible and communicative. Either party’s failure to do so should not result in cost-shifting the impasse onto customers. Surely, the city and the water company can do better.

The city is accusing the water company of refusing to provide the usage information while the water company seems a bit mystified by that claim. John Ott, who manages Animas Water Co., said, “I’ll provide them with whatever they want.” That appears to be a relatively easily solvable communication gap that never should have swallowed water and sewer users into the chasm.

With access to the usage information, the city could accurately assess any necessary rate increases and then explain those hikes to its users. While that may be cold comfort for some customers, it at least would be a transparent and understandable decision. Without such a basis, and with an accusatory tone to boot, the city has levied an apparently arbitrary fee increase – significant for some – that is tinted with a punitive hue. Its sewer customers have done nothing worthy of reprisal.

The city should rethink its fee increases for its Animas Water Co. customers and head back to the phones to open communication with the water district. There is no need to burn so much goodwill on what should be a relatively uncomplicated issue.

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