Residents roundtable helps Wellington solve sewage problem

Annie Lindgren

North Forty News

First it was water, now it’s sewage, as the City of Wellington prepares to make another important decision that will impact anyone with sewer needs in the Wellington region.

The Wellington City Council decided to do things differently. They used a roundtable committee of residents to kick-start the solution-focused conversations. Members included volunteers from the Community Activities Commission, volunteers from the Parks Advisory Board, program board members from the Chamber of Commerce and Wellington Main Street, municipal employees, residents and business owners . The team met for four working sessions over the holiday period and presented their recommendations to Council on January 11, 2022.

Trustee Rebekka Kinney shares, “The roundtable concept was recommended as a best practice by the Colorado Municipal League at the 2021 conference. I knew we had to bring it to Wellington! Public input and participation is so important, but the complexity of this issue demands more. Genuine engagement, education and participation happen through processes like this. I am so encouraged by the investment of time and the enthusiasm of these concerned citizens to address this major consideration in a productive way. Their recommendations are invaluable and will be an integral part of every decision going forward on this project. Providing a reliable, safe and resilient public service is our main objective, with the least possible impact on our costs. It is a difficult and very complex decision. I am grateful for the productive contribution of this group of dedicated citizens, and I look forward to using this model to address other important topics in our community.

“On behalf of everyone involved, we think this opportunity to learn and provide feedback was incredible and really showed the city’s willingness to listen to citizens,” said Roundtable member Anita Hardy. .

The Wellington sewage treatment plant is 20 years old and, at the current rate of growth, will reach capacity by 2024. Twenty years is an average expected lifespan for a sewage treatment plant, and it has served the needs of wellingtons. Thinking about what to do, the team envisions a projected growth of 24,000 citizens by 2040. It currently serves about 12,000 residents. State and federal regulatory requirements have changed and upgrades are needed to meet nutrient removal requirements. The city can be fined $54,833 a day in civil penalties if it fails to meet compliance standards by the end of 2024. The team plans to use all existing facilities and maintain needs increased at the current sewage treatment plant site. But upgrades are needed to double the current capacity and meet new, stricter compliance standards.

Utilities are funded through impact fees paid by developers and homebuilders, loans and grants, and rates paid by current customers. Expenditures include operation, maintenance and capital improvements. The financial health of the utility requires regular periodic monitoring and adjustments of rates and impact fees to maintain balance of company funds. The last time the base sewer rate increased was in 2016, when it increased by one dollar to $20.63, and an increase in sewer impact fee from $7,500 $ to $9,700 in 2021.

It’s not an option that no action be taken, and the board, city staff, residents and consultants have explored various options to resolve the impact of the rate increases. City staff have been working on this issue for some time. They will bid on equipment, materials and subcontractors to get the best estimate. Needs and environmental assessments for the project have been completed and a public hearing was held on January 11, 2022, allowing for public comment. This was a necessary component in attempting to secure a loan from the state revolving fund (SRF), the most cost-effective financing option available to the city. Federal funding requires compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which will also be incorporated into the final plan.

On January 11, members of the Residents’ Roundtable Committee shared their recommendations with the Board, which included the value of including the community in discussions, being a good steward of taxpayers, to be transparent on the plan, to have good planning and to have equality in the need to increase rates. They suggested options to maximize fiscal creativity, such as transferring funds and assessing loan terms. They asked for phased rate increases, annually evaluating rates and equity between residential and business customers. Finally, they suggested promoting resources that can help reduce utility costs, such as the Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) program and water conservation programs. They also asked to continue to participate in the discussions.

A working session on January 18 brought together city administrators and the mayor, members of the residents’ roundtable and city staff to discuss options and next steps. The group discussed water tariffs alongside the discussion on waste water, as the topic of water is not settled yet and the two issues are related. What goes in must come out.

During the working session, several options were presented to the Council. Proposed sewer rate options include a scenario with an incremental base rate and user rate increase and a scenario with a commitment to a portion of the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding (1,300 $000). All sewer pricing scenarios assume a 30-year loan term and a transfer of $390,000 from the general fund to the sewer fund. The projected loan will be $48,000,000 with an expected interest rate of 2.25%, although the actual loan amount has not yet been finalized. There will be a 5% annual increase in the base and utilization rate for the following five years. There will be a shortfall in the reserve policy of the balance of the fund required by the City (110% of the annual debt service), with a shortfall (up to) 15% for a maximum of 4 consecutive years.

They then went through four scenarios, with different amounts for the sewer base and usage rate increases for each scenario. The Board liked Scenarios 2 and 4 the most, including scaling up with or without ARPA. The base rate is based on sewer needs of 0 to 3,000 gallons per month with a usage rate per thousand gallons for 4,000 gallons and above. From 2022, that would mean a base rate of $30-32 and a usage rate of $9-10. In 2022, it would increase to $40-45 for the base rate and $12-13 for the usage rate per thousand gallons over 3,000. In 2024, it would be a base rate of $42 to 47.25 $ with a usage rate of $12.60 to $13.65. Discussions will continue to iron out the final numbers.

The average Wellington customer produces approximately 4,000 gallons of wastewater per month. They determine this by estimating the average water use from January to March, assuming there is no outdoor irrigation during that time.

From a schedule perspective, construction is expected to begin in mid-2022, with the expanded plant completed and commissioned by mid-2024. It should be completed before these daily penalties for non-compliance with regulatory requirements take effect. People will start seeing changes to their sewer bill in May 2022.

The Residents’ Roundtable was pleased with the results of the January 18 working session. In order to reduce the financial impacts for residents, the board is considering transferring funds from the general fund to the sewer fund. This transfer could represent up to 10% of the sewer fund’s total revenues. This means funding will need to be cut in other areas, and those areas are yet to be determined as discussions continue. A sinking fund is being created for the sewer fund from impact fees to plan for future expansions now to avoid large rate increases in the future. There will be further discussion on whether or not ARPA funding of $1.3 million will go to the water or sewer fund to help reduce costs in other ways. They review the changes to the administration fees currently built into each fund. The budget and expenditures are reviewed each year because many things can change each year, for example, new state and federal legislation or funding opportunities. The Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) fund, designed to help residents pay their utility bills, will continue in 2022.

Administrators asked city staff to report more details on the No. 2 and No. 4 sewer scenarios and to include a comparison of ARPA fund options to go to water versus sewer. They also requested a sample winter and summer months bill to better share the big picture. City staff had 48 hours to achieve this, as council’s brief had to be ready by Jan. 21.

Roundtable member Anita Hardy shares, “I’m confident that the directors really heard our concerns about budget efficiency. I am delighted to see that the recommendations we made were not only listened to but heard, as evidenced by their application in the options presented during the working session. As all of the directors and many of the staff are residents of the city, these decisions are not made lightly, as they impact not only the community as a whole, but also themselves.

Wyatt Schwendeman-Curtis, who participated in the Roundtable, shared, “As a Roundtable member and a Wellington citizen, I believe this Residents’ Roundtable was a huge success, and I look forward to the continuation of the roundtable and the presentation of ideas to the Council in the future. Since it was a success, I hope that more residents’ roundtables will be used for other projects in the city. »

The next board meeting will be on January 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Leeper Center. They offer a Zoom link for those unable to attend in person. There will be an opportunity for public comment and possible adoption.

While no one wants to have to pay more for their wastewater needs, especially after increases in our freshwater needs, the reality is that it has to happen. Otherwise, grab your boots, folks; we could be up sewer creek.

For more information, visit townofwellington.com.

Wellington Wastewater Treatment Plant, photo courtesy of the City of Wellington

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