A failed attempt to rein in Littleton’s sewer-fee increase during the final days of the 2008 legislative session has led lawmakers to try again with the start of 2009.
State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, and state Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton, introduced House Bill 1006 on Jan. 7, which attempts to combat differential increases of sewer rates for users outside municipal boundaries.
The bill is a counter attack to the City of Littleton’s recent decision to increase sewer fees by 20 percent for residents outside city limits, mainly unincorporated Jefferson County, while keeping rates for city residents unchanged.
As a result, the City of Littleton is hiring a lobbyist to help combat the legislation.
House Bill 1006 sets the standards for establishing sewerage system rates by municipalities with more than 50 percent of users outside city lines.
Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, for example, has only 25 percent of the plant’s customers living in Englewood or Littleton, and the rest are in districts outside the cities, according to General Manager Larry Moore.
The Roxborough special district is one of 21 connector districts that feed into the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The plant was established in 1977 and is jointly owned by Littleton and Englewood.
It is the third largest publicly owned treatment works in the state of Colorado, and receives sewage from the cities of Englewood and Littleton, as well as from the 21 connector districts.
HB 1006 requires municipalities to base the rates on the actual cost of providing the service, as well as prohibits cities or towns from imposing arbitrarily higher rates on owners of property located outside of the city.
Municipalities also are required to conduct a public hearing prior to fixing, changing, revising, or imposing a revised sewerage system rate, according to the bill.
The amendment proposed by Kopp during the final days of the 2008 session was attached to a bill reviewing the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utility services. While it did not prevent municipalities from raising rates disproportionately depending on locale, it did require proof to the PUC that the raises were nondiscriminatory.
“I’m frankly pretty irritated with the PUC,” Kopp said. “Is the sanitation district a utility? Yes. Is it a monopoly? Yes. Is it regulated? No. Put those three facts together, and you realize the constituents in South Jeffco are not being treated fairly under current law.”
Littleton Mayor Doug Clark justified the sewer fee increase during an April 15 city council meeting, based on census data stating an average of 2.76 people live in each dwelling unit outside the city, compared to 2.24 inside, a 23.2 percent difference.
The assumption is that every one of these people is using their toilets, thus providing more sewage to treat outside the city.
Pat Fitzgerald, manager of Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District, said the occupancy rate doesn’t prove anything to justify raising only those rates outside the city.
“Littleton fully intends to balance their budget on the backs of the outside users,” Fitzgerald said.
According to Fitzgerald, the sanitation district reached an understanding with the previous city council that Littleton residents were not fully paying their cost for collection system operation and maintenance.
“Over the past five years that was being corrected, which is why increases were larger inside the city than outside. Our concern now is that the city has reversed that position and is now going back to a cost system,” Fitzgerald said.
Clark said the idea of charging more for outside residents is a tactic seen throughout municipalities in Colorado that serve those outside their boundaries. And, he sees logic in this.
“We have loans the city is obligated to repay. It’s just the citizens of Littleton that are to pay off the expansion of the plant. That’s a risk the Littleton citizens took,” Clarks said.
“These sewer districts voluntarily decided to connect to us. They sign a contract that we can set the rates at whatever we want. The very first rate increase that happens, they threaten to sue us.”