By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A proposed Denver Water rate increase isn’t just a drop in the bucket compared to the realities of an economic downturn, ratepayers will argue this week.
The Board of Water Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, as well as again next Wednesday, before voting on the proposal. The plan calls for an average increase for next year of $41 per year for Denver customers, or an increase of about $3.40 per month.
The increase would be more than 10 percent for next year and comes as Denver Water officials warn that consumers may see an increase of 31 percent over the next three years.
If approved, the increased water rates would take effect in March 2011.
Suburban residential customers would see an average increase of about $2.66 per month, or about $32 per year.
The proposal has already made a splash with Denver City Council members — but not the kind of splash that Denver Water would have liked. In addition to raising concerns over the impact a rate increase could have on constituents, Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz took the opportunity last month to raise questions over the organization of the Denver Water board itself.
Currently, the Board of Water Commissioners is a five-member board that is appointed by the mayor of Denver. Faatz questioned whether it wouldn’t be a better idea to switch to a board that is elected by the people, to perhaps better represent the interests of voters.
“Our same people are paying these rates and they have definitely let us know that they are not interested in increased taxes and we have tried to listen to that and be responsive, and they’re not interested in higher fees, and yet you all just pretty much as an enterprise get to set what you set and charge them,” Faatz told Denver Water officials at a City Council briefing last month.
Penelope Zeller, a neighborhood representative for North City Park, said she is already hearing from concerned residents, ranging from the elderly to those who have been laid off during the economic downturn.
Zeller questions a “service fee” on her bill that was implemented when Denver Water began monthly billing. Her fee is in the range of $5.50, or about $65 per year, said Zeller in a letter to Denver Water officials.
“The idea of an increase in water-use rates is inconceivable at this time, and with Denver Water losing trust and respect for decisions that appear to be greedy and short-sighted,” wrote Zeller.
Denver Water explains the need for the rate increase as being about keeping up with increased demand and maintaining and building infrastructure to keep up with demand.
“We need to invest in our water system so we can continue to provide reliable service and clean water to our community,” Angela Bricmont, director of finance for Denver Water, said in a statement last month.
Water officials say they need to rehabilitate or replace more than 3,000 miles of distribution pipe, as well as 12 raw water reservoirs, 22 pump stations and four treatment plants.
Denver Water also plans to expand its system capacity over the next decade to accommodate future needs, according to a news release issued last month. The plan calls for enlarging Gross Reservoir by 18,000 acre-feet, finishing the development of gravel pits that store reusable water, and exploring ways to work with other water providers.
The board will meet today and hold a public hearing at 9 a.m., and then again next Wednesday at 9 a.m. at 1600 West 12th Avenue. The board is expected to vote on the proposed changes next Wednesday, Nov. 17.
Comments may also be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the proposed rate adjustment, call 303-628-6320.