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50% increase in water, sewer rates approved for some Bayfield-area residents

Town official says it costs more to provide services to out-of-town customers
The town of Bayfield approved a 50% rate increase for water and sewer customers who live just outside town limits. (Durango Herald file)

Water and sewer rates will increase by 5% for Bayfield in-town residents and 50% for out-of-town residents who use the town’s infrastructure.

“I could understand if you wanted to charge us a $10 monthly fee for the lift station, but to increase our rates so that it’s close to $100 a month just for sewer, is ridiculous,” said out-of-town Bayfield sewage customer Bill Wehmer.

Wehmer said his sewage rate will go up from $56 a month to more than $100 a month when rate increase take effect.

“It’s the cost of service,” said Bayfield Town Manager Katie Sickles. “This is just time to review these sewer rates, and charge the customers where the service is more expensive to provide.”

Sickles said the increase stems from the cost to operate sewage lift stations for the out-of-town sewage customers. A portion of fees collected by in-town ratepayers is being saved to maintain and replace a lift station at Gem Village.

“For quite a few years, we’ve made the users in town pay for services that out-of-town customers are using,” Sickles said. “We’re trying to make out-of-town users accountable for the costs of serving their area.”

Lift stations bring sewage over hills and deliver the sewage to a treatment plant. Sickles said the aging lift station at Gem Village will cost around $500,000 to replace.

“Sewage runs downhill. We don’t pressurize sewage,” she said. “To get it up and over the hill we have here from Gem Village requires a lift station.”

Wehmer said he won’t bear the financial brunt of the water increase, because he has his own water system.

“People that have both utilities through Bayfield are going to get a double whammy,” he said.

Sickles said that because most out-of-town sewage users do not use Bayfield’s water system, but do use its sewage, it is difficult to determine how much water is coming to the town’s sewage treatment plant from out-of-town users.

Bayfield uses winter months to adjust sewage rates, because it is during the winter when most water used is returned to the sewage system, because people aren’t doing things such as watering their lawns.

“Out of town we have no record of what they use, and no idea how much water is being flushed and dispensed into the sewer collection,” Sickles said.

She said that in the winter, more often than not, in-town ratepayers are paying more for sewage than out-of-town residents.

“It only takes about 3,000 gallons of winter water use before in-town is paying more for sewer than out-of-town,” Sickles said.

Wehmer’s argument about the potential increase is that as an out-of-town user of Bayfield’s utilities, he feels he has no agency as to what decisions the town makes about the services he pays for.

“I could go to the city council meetings and squawk to the mayor, but I don't live in the city, I can’t vote anyone out of office or anything,” he said. “It doesn’t seem fair or right.”

Wehmer said he’s unaware of how many out-of-town residents are affected, but said there are about 70 homes in his neighborhood that also depend on sewage infrastructure from the town of Bayfield.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story erred in saying the rate increases had not yet been approved. The rate increases were approved Dec. 21 by the Bayfield Board of Trustees.

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