Frisco moves forward with water rate increases
Following months of discussion the town of Frisco finally pulled the trigger on a new water rate structure, along with increased tap fees, in hopes of incentivizing water conservation while keeping a well-maintained fund balance for future capital improvements.
The ordinance passed in a split 6-1 vote, with Councilman Dan Fallon as the lone dissenter. The ordinance should see a second reading during the council’s next meeting in early June.
Prior to this year, the last time Frisco completed a water rates study was in 2006 and the scheduled rate increases were in effect until 2016, meaning the town hasn’t increased its water rates in more than two years. In November last year, the council asked staff to complete an in-house five-year study on the rates, resulting in the new ordinance.
The town landed on a base water rate of $45 a quarter, on top of an escalating fee structure wherein the more water a consumer uses, the more they’ll have to pay. The structure is organized so that on top of the base rate, customers will pay $1.12 per 1,000 gallons for those using up to 8,000 gallons; $2.24 per 1,000 gallons for those using between 8,000 and 16,000 gallons; $4 per 1,000 gallons for those using between 16,000 and 50,000 gallons; and $5 per 1,000 gallons for those using more than 50,000 gallons a quarter.
While the new rate structure was easily accepted within the council, other language within the ordinance was more heavily scrutinized, with council members going back and forth on proposed annual increases in service fees and usage rates.
At the meeting, Frisco’s finance director, Bonnie Moinet, presented the council with a number of alternatives for annual service and usage rate increases, ranging from 3% per year to 5% per year, along with a possible graduated increase wherein the percent change would increase each year. The conversation largely revolved around whether to implement a 3% or 5% flat annual rate increase, and how best to ease pressure on the town’s largest water consumers.
“My concern continues to be the big capital hit for the bigger water users,” said Fallon, referring to potential costs to businesses planning to implement more conservation friendly water fixtures in light of the new structure. “I understand these are the accounts you want to proactively move in the direction of conservation. But some of that usage is out of their control, and I’m concerned about the capital hit they have to take relative to some of the increases that are out of line with those you see across the board. In the short term, I support the 3% range.”
The other side of the coin is that as the town continues to incentivize conservation efforts, revenue within the enterprise water fund could continue to fall, and officials are concerned with keeping a strong enough fund balance in place to deal with both planned capital improvements to the system along with potential unexpected costs.
“It is a small difference between the 5% and the 3%,” said town manager Nancy Kerry. “But it does help in the capital side to make sure that our fund balance covers that. In any given water emergency a million dollar expenditure is not an uncommon number. So (public works director Jeff Goble) was comfortable with that two to three million range in fund balance.”
Frisco currently has almost $4 million in planned capital investments to the system by the end of 2023. The fund is also expected to help launch a number of conservation programs tied to the town’s water efficiency plan — including irrigation audits and rebates for fixture replacements — estimated to cost about $1.7 million over the next five years.
Ultimately the council voted to move forward with an annual 5% rate increase over the next five years, which would allow the town to maintain an estimated $2.38 million fund balance through 2024, as opposed to a $2 million balance under a 3% annual increase. Town officials said they would look into potential programs to help subsidize capital costs for businesses looking to improve their water fixtures on Fallon’s suggestion.
The town then turned the discussion to increases in tap fees, hoping to create fees more competitive with the surrounding communities, without undermining developers who already have projects in the works in town. Frisco currently charges a tap fee of $4,300, while Breckenridge, Silverthorne and Dillon all currently have tap fees in excess of $7,500.
“In fairness to people that have done their due diligence, I don’t want to see a big increase right away,” said Councilwoman Melissa Sherburne. “It’s on us that we kept it so low for so long. We need to be fair to the people who do business with us. I certainly support the increase, but we need something incremental over the years to get up to that goal of market standard.”
The council finally settled on an increase to $5,000 per tap starting on Jan. 1, 2020, followed by a 10% annual increase every October. If the council chooses to pass the ordinance on second reading, the new water rate structure will go into effect on Oct. 1.
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