Breckenridge water rates increase by 5 percent to fund new water plant | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge water rates increase by 5 percent to fund new water plant

Summit Daily staff report
news@summitdaily.com

For the first time in recent memory, the town of Breckenridge will raise water usage rates by 5 percent for residential and commercial customers across town.

In an effort to both encourage conservation and kick-start funding for a proposed new water plant, the town council last year approved a higher water utility rate for 2015. Historically, water fees have increased at a low pace of 1 percent annually. Beginning this March, the town's water usage rates will increase by 5 percent and plant investment fees (PIFs) will jump by 10 percent, the steepest hike since 2007, according to town records.

"Rapidly increasing demands, especially in the drought-prone West, are placing an immense strain on this limited, precious resource," Mayor John Warner said. "It is our duty to address this critical issue for our community."

The 5 percent rate increase for residential and commercial users will raise the base residential usage charge from $31.26 to $32.81 over a two-month billing cycle, an increase of $1.55. That translates to a $9.30 increase annually per customer.

For customers beyond town limits, such as homes in the Blue River neighborhood, the two-month rate is 50 percent higher, according to the town's 2011 water plant feasibility study. Those customers will pay $18.60 more per year.

Excess usage rates will also increase in turn. The base rate for maximum usage will drop from 12,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons per two-month billing cycle. Rates for excess usage will increase from $3.11 per 1,000 gallons to $5.00 per 1,000 gallons. These measures were put in place to encourage conservation efforts, according to a town release.

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To assist customers with conservation efforts, the town will send individual water usage history reports shortly after the rate increase. These reports will detail two-year usage history for each customer. Town officials hope the reports can help guide and track conservation efforts, and they come paired with a link to water conservation tips on the town website.

Over the past 10 years, water has factored heavily into council discussions about the town's future. After noting that water is essential to the community's economy, natural environment and quality of life, the council made water-related issues a priority and in 2014 completed a comprehensive study on the town's water system, which strongly recommends the addition of a second water plant.

The PIF increase of 10 percent for 2015 is double the historical annual increase rate of 5 percent. This rate hike is the first step for financing a new plant. Only new customers connecting to the municipal system pay PIFs.

The 2014 water study indicated that the town's sole water treatment plant, a 41-year-old facility, will not be able to meet future demand. As a result, the town has started the process of planning for a new facility that will help the town meet future water demand as the town continues to grow.

While the town has made strides in conserving water and management efficiency, the current water plant is nearing 80 percent capacity. The current plant will not be able to support new customers outside the current service area, which is supplied by private wells with a high likelihood of failure.

Another benefit of a new plant is emergency readiness. In the event of a wildfire, natural disaster or mechanical malfunction at the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also found that the Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers in comparison to other communities in Colorado. Funding currently comes from user fees, tap fees and water system maintenance fees. The upcoming usage rate and PIF increases are the first such increases. The town council and utility department have not yet decided on any future increases.

"The town is working with water system consultants, engineers and water rights attorneys to secure our community's water future," Warner said. "Increased water rates are just one part of taking steps to improve our water utility system. The council and staff are aware that increased rates are rarely welcome news, but we believe that our citizens will understand the critical needs for water conservation and system improvements."

The Breckenridge Water System study and an informational Q&A on the rate increase are available on the town website at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com.