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2021 & 2022 Water and Sewer Rate Proposal

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In light of COVID-19 and its impact on the daily lives of Westminster residents and businesses, the city has suspended work on the 2021 - 2022 Water and Sewer Rate Proposal.

Plenty of notice will be provided when the city reconsiders rates for 2021 and 2022 at a later date. 

The City of Westminster wants you to be informed about rate adjustments being considered for 2021 and 2022 that will fund the critical responsibility of providing your home or business safe, reliable and high-quality drinking water and sewer services.

Water and sewer rates are set to cover the cost of operating and maintaining your community's water and sewer systems. No taxes are used to fund water and sewer projects or operations.

 Public comments will be documented and provided to City Council before they vote on 2021 and 2022 water and sewer rates in May.

The challenge: aging infrastructure

Rate adjustments are necessary to address the challenge of aging water and sewer infrastructure and to prevent the even higher cost of failure.

A large portion of Westminster’s infrastructure was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s during a period of significant growth in the city. All of this infrastructure is now close to 50 years old and needs to be replaced.

Studies have shown that we’ve used up half the useful life of our water and sewer infrastructure and 25% of the total infrastructure is already at or beyond its designed life.

Failure to invest more in the city’s existing infrastructure today will lead to service interruptions, sewer backups and possible impacts to water quality such as boil water advisories. Not to mention emergency repairs that are up to eight times more expensive than planned projects.

Aging infrastructure and increasing water rates are a challenge across the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades Colorado’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure at C-. Nationwide, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is graded D and D+, respectively.

The Solution: Increasing our Investment in aging infrastructure

We need to take care of what we own. City staff recommend gradual rate adjustments to fund construction projects that repair and replace our existing infrastructure and maintain the high quality service customers expect and deserve.

Photo of damaged rafters in drinking water storage tank.

Over the last ten years, the city averaged about $30 million a year in water and sewer construction projects. Based on comprehensive engineering studies, staff recommends increasing the city’s investment in repairing or replacing its existing infrastructure to an average of $60 to $80 million a year. The city’s Long Term Planning process systematically identifies the right projects at the right time to invest ratepayers’ funds as efficiently as possible. 

Graph of Water and Sewer Capital Improvement Program 2011 - 2030

Critical projects proposed for 2021 and 2022 include $16 million to replace deteriorating drinking water storage tanks, $11.5 million to replace an aging water main on Lowell Boulevard and $4.6 million to meet new environmental regulations by reducing nutrients leaving Westminster’s Big Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility.

minimizing the Financial impact

Staff also recommend using several strategies to help minimize the financial impact of these projects including using $2 million from a rate stabilization fund, reducing the utility’s contribution to the city’s General Fund by $500,000 and strategically using debt for inter-generational equity. The city has also formed an internal task force to identify innovative solutions to maintaining the city’s infrastructure and reducing costs.

Water and sewer rate options

The need for maintaining your community's existing infrastructure won’t go away without investing more. Projects that are deferred now will still need to be completed and will be more expensive in the future.

All rate options below include (1) funding for the same minimally responsible investment in projects that repair or replace our existing infrastructure and (2) alignment with the city's existing financial policies. 

The options differ by how rates are adjusted in 2021 and 2022. If rates are increased less in 2021 and 2022, future years will require higher rate increases. If rates are increased more in 2021 and 2022, future years will require lower rate increases. For example, 0% rate increases in 2021 and 2022 will require 19% rate increases in 2023 and 2024 to continue funding the minimally responsible investment in projects and to stay aligned with the city's existing financial policies. 

Tap fees are included in this financial analysis with a projected $7.9 million in tap fee revenue, water and sewer combined, for 2021 and 2022.

All rate options below are presented with 10 years of historical rate adjustments and a 10 year projection of future rate adjustments. Rate options are shown in percent revenue growth. This translates closely to percent rate adjustment for customers, but not exactly. Customer bill impacts are shown in the next section. 

The recommended option provides the most consistent rate adjustments for future years.

Sewer rate options graph 2021 - 2030

What this means for you

The recommended rate option will lead to an average monthly increase of $4 for drinking water services and $3 for sewer services for the average customer in 2021 and 2022.

See how the recommended rate option could impact your bill. 

Review bill impacts for low, average, and high water users.

Compared to other Denver Metro cities, Westminster doesn’t charge the most for water and sewer rates. The rates are about average for low-water users, slightly above average for medium-water users and high for high-water users. This reflects the city’s policy for tiered rates to encourage conservation and to charge customers according to their impact on the system. Single Family Single Family Annual Combined Bill Regional Comparison

Rate Schedule for all Rate Options

Provide feedback

In light of COVID-19 and its impact on the daily lives of Westminster residents and businesses, the city has suspended work on the 2021 - 2022 Water and Sewer Rate Proposal.

Plenty of notice will be provided when the city reconsiders rates for 2021 and 2022 at a later date. 


Two open houses will be held at city recreation centers to educate residents about the proposal and document feedback. Community members can attend these open houses at any time during the event. Refreshments will be provided.

Wednesday, February 26
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
City Park Recreational Center
10455 Sheridan Boulevard

 

                  

Canceled until further notice:

Wednesday, March 18
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
The MAC
3295 West 72nd Avenue

 

The city also wants to meet with residents in smaller meetings and invites community organizations and homeowners associations to request additional presentations by phone at 303-706-3310 or by email at waterinfo@cityofwestminster.us.

You can also provide a comment by calling 303-706-3310 and leaving a message. 

Programs To Help You Manage Your Bill

The city offers several programs to help interested customers use less water and manage their bill. A water bill assistance program offers income-qualified customers a $15 per month credit toward their utility bill, free replacement of old toilets and no-cost leak repairs.  The city also offers several water conservation programs to help residents use less water outdoors, including a new Grass to Garden program.

Questions?

You can reach us by email at waterinfo@cityofwestminster.us or leave a message on our hotline at 303-706-3310.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get assistance paying my water bill?
The city offers a Water Bill Assistance Program for income-qualifying residents including: a Low-Income Program, Hardship Program and Repair Program. 

What can I do to reduce the amount of water I pay for on my water bill?

  • Replace your toilets with the most water efficient “WaterSense” labeled toilets. They don’t cost any more money and could reduce your toilet’s use by 20 percent or more on each flush. Your toilet is the largest water user in your home, so there are big savings to achieve!
  • Check out the Water Conservation webpage, which offers free sprinkler consultations and Garden In A Box discounts.
  • Transform your lawn into a water-smart landscape; replace thirsty grass with low-water turf, plants, trees and shrubs. 
  • Recycle the rain; use rain barrels to collect precipitation and reuse it outdoors.

Who makes the decision to set rates?
City Council votes on water and sewer rates every two years. The first reading for 2021 and 2022 water and sewer rates is tentatively scheduled for April 27 followed by a second reading and final vote on May 11.

How does the city know that its rates are fair and equitable?
Following industry best practices, the city periodically reviews how it sets rates to cover the costs of providing service. The city conducted a Rate and Fee Cost of Service Study in 2018 to determine the amount of rate revenues that must be recovered from each customer class. 

When will the rate proposal go into effect?
Jan. 1, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022.

Are tiered rates for water new to Westminster?
The city has been charging tiered, increasing block rates since 1975. At that time there were three tiers implemented. There were also different tiers and rates in the summer and winter seasons. All the tiers cost more the more a customer would use. In 1993, the city got rid of the winter/summer split and went to year round tiers and rates. 

What does the Westminster Home Rule Charter require?
Charter section 14.4 authorizes City Council to fix rates for public utility services.  Rates shall not be discriminatory within any classification of users. 

Charter section 14.6 requires that utility rates be fixed so as to at least meet all the operating costs of the utility. 

Does the rate proposal provide a profit for the utility?
No. The rate proposal is designed to meet the operating costs of the utility, so that the utility breaks even. 

Why can City Council raise my water and sewer rates without putting the increases on the ballot every time? Isn’t this a tax?
The city’s water, sewer and stormwater utilities are considered as an Enterprise. City Council adopted an ordinance in 1994 establishing the water and sewer utility, and in 2015, amended and restated the ordinance to include the stormwater utility. A Utility Enterprise receives its funding from the customer charges and fees that are needed to pay for the costs of performing services. Because the utility is an enterprise, and the funding is from fees charged for the services provided to our customers, City Council has the authority to adjust the rates and fees charged by the utility, and to issue debt to fund utility projects. 

Does the city offer waivers or rebates on water or sewer tap fees to developers as a development incentive?
No, the city does not offer any sort of waiver, rebate or reduction for water and sewer tap fees. Our staff specifically calculates the tap fees for every new development to ensure that development is paying for its fair share of access to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, and for access to the city’s water supply. Once a tap fee is paid, that new property pays water and sewer rates just like all other customers. For redevelopment projects, credits for tap fees previously paid are part of the calculation, but tap fees are not waived or otherwise reduced; they are essential to ensure growth helps pay for growth.

Can the city’s General Fund (sales tax money) be used to help reduce my water and sewer bills?
Because the utility is considered an Enterprise, City Council can adopt the rates and fees needed to fund these services. While City Council has the legal authority to subsidize the Utility Fund with the General Fund up to a certain amount, staff believes the financial management of the city is best served when rate payers directly fund the services they receive. In addition, the General Fund has its own infrastructure needs, and the use of the General Fund to offset Utility Fund needs would limit the resources to address those needs.

What specific rates may change on my bill?
Water and sewer rates and the fixed meter service fee. Tap fees are paid by developers, and for new or expanded construction only.

What if I live in an HOA? How do the rates affect me?
Homeowners Association residents pay a different water rate than single-family detached residential. This is based on a few factors, including type of building and the infrastructure required to serve the building(s), which is also different than single-family. 

How do you calculate sewer usage?
Since we don’t have sewer meters, the amount we charge our customers for wastewater service is calculated based on the water you use in the winter months of December, January and February. That is our best gauge of how our customers are using water indoors, since there is typically little outdoor water use happening in the winter months. 

The city has built and maintained a wastewater system that stands ready to serve all city customers at any time. While the average single-family residential customer uses 5,000 gallons of water in the winter time, some customers have little or no water use in these months. Staff recognizes that even though some customers may be gone from their homes during a portion of the year, and others may use very little indoor water in the winter, the city must operate the wastewater system to provide that service at any time.

To ensure that each customer pays an appropriate amount to keep the sewer system ready to provide service, all customers, both residential and commercial, pay a minimum monthly 'readiness to serve' charge that is set at an amount equivalent to a 2,000 gallon monthly charge. With water revenues, all customers pay a fixed fee to cover the operation of the water system, regardless of water use. In the wastewater system, a minimum charge provides a similar level of equity.

What have water rate increases been in the past?

A 10 year rate increase history for water and sewer rates is shown in the graphs above. 

Why does Westminster use tiered rates?

Tiered rates are an established method of recovering costs to the city’s system caused by users of all usage levels, and they have been used in Westminster for more than 40 years. 

Westminster is an irrigation-season peaking utility. The water plants are sized to meet the water demand on the highest water use day in the year, generally that day is in the first half of July when about 1/3 of the demand is indoor and 2/3 is outdoor irrigation. During most of the year, that plant capacity is not required to meet demand. If there was no outdoor irrigation, the city’s plants would only need to be 1/3 of the size that they were built. The more irrigation you use, the bigger the plants, water storage and pipes Westminster had to build to meet demands and greater level of service to equipment such as pumps, motors, valves and controls. 

How will two family units with one water meter be handled?
Duplexes using one water meter will have water allotment for two houses. For example, Tier 1 rates are up to 6,000 gallons for a single house, but for a duplex Tier 1 rates are up to 12,000 gallons. Tier 2 rate are up to 20,000 gallons for a single house (40,000 for a duplex) and Tier 3 rates are 21,000 gallons and over for a single house (42,000 and over for a duplex).

Why does the city charge more for irrigation water? Why does the City charge more for Tier 2 and Tier 3? Doesn’t water cost the same no matter how much I use?
The city charges more for outdoor watering (Tiers 2 and 3) for a few reasons. 

  • Outdoor water is discretionary water. While we all like having healthy landscaping in our yard, our highest priority water is the water we use to cook and clean. 
  • It costs us more to produce water in the summer for outdoor watering. You might think that it costs the same to provide you water no matter how you use it, but when we have to produce more water for everyone who’s watering their landscaping, and usually all at the same time, we need to have enough treatment plant capacity, storage and pipelines in place to get that water to you when you want it. Most of our water use is by our residents, so our utility system is built to accommodate that use. In this way, the costs for the higher water use are paid by those who are using it. Said another way, having 3 tiers of water-use pricing ensures that the costs for higher water use (e.g., the water use in Tiers 2 and 3) are not paid by those who are not using it. 
  • We also want our customers to value our water resources, and conservation pricing (aka tiered water pricing) helps us to send that message. 

Why is the city increasing water rates?
Rate changes fund the repair and maintenance of Westminster’s water infrastructure. Every extra dollar spent flows directly back into the community, providing continued access to the fresh tasting, high-quality water we depend on every day. The city is increasing water and sewer rates to repair aging infrastructure and meet cleaner water standards. Reliable pipes, pumps, tanks, chemicals, equipment, replacement parts and treatment plants ensure you keep receiving clean water every day of the year.

Our operating expenses also increase every year as our costs such as labor, parts, chemicals and contracts increase. 

The Utility also has large projects that are budgeted as a part of the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). These are projects to repair/replace aging infrastructure, and to make improvements to allow for growth, changing regulations, etc. 

Why are you raising our rates if we’re conserving water? I feel like we're being penalized for doing the right thing.
Conservation of water has had a very positive impact on our overall system. Rate increase recommendations to City Council are based on the needs of the overall system, and our number one priority is ensuring that our valuable utility system is ready to serve our customers all day, every day.

We actually heard this question a few years ago, so we did some research to see what our rates would have been if we had never implemented any conservation measures in the city. Here’s what we found.Without conservation, the city would have needed the following:

  • A bigger water treatment plant, at the cost of approx. $130 million.
  • A bigger sewer treatment plant, at the cost of approx. $20 million.
  • The City would had to have purchase more water rights, at the cost of approximately $220 million. 
  • We couldn’t have paid for all of these costs with cash, so we would have issued debt. We estimated the interests costs at approx. $223 million. 

That’s $593 million of work that we would have needed, and which would have been funded from rates and tap fees.

Our residents have done a tremendous job of conserving water – since 1980, water use has dropped by 21%!  However, we understand the frustration of those making a concerted effort to conserve their water because they are still seeing costs continuing to increase each year due to the hard costs of maintaining the overall system. If the city hadn’t adopted conservation measures, we would have needed more funding from our customers, to the tune of an additional 94 percent of rate increases over the years. Our customers conserving water has helped to not raise rates as much as if they hadn’t conserved water. 

Is development in Downtown Westminster, Westminster Station or other construction focus areas causing the water, sewer and tap fee increases for 2019 and 2020?

No, the rate increases are primarily driven by the age and condition of our existing utility system, not growth. Our Public Works & Utilities Department has already identified specific infrastructure projects that must be replaced. New growth in Westminster pays its fair share to connect into our excellent water supply and sewer systems. 

Does the city offer waivers or rebates on water or sewer tap fees to developers as a development incentive?

No, the city does not offer any sort of waiver, rebate or reduction for water and sewer tap fees. Our staff specifically calculates the tap fees for every new development to ensure that development is paying for its fair share of access to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, and for access to the city’s water supply. Once a tap fee is paid, that new property pays water and sewer rates just like all other customers. For redevelopment projects, credits for tap fees previously paid are part of the calculation, but tap fees are not waived or otherwise reduced; they are essential to ensure growth helps pay for growth.

What do my rates pay for?
As our city’s utility system ages, more and more repairs and replacements are required. Westminster experiences some of the same increases in costs that homeowners do. Maintaining aging systems is expensive, though Westminster is able to do it and keep water and sewer rates at about average for the region. View this video for more details.

How will my water and sewer bill be used in 2020?
A large portion of your water bill (56%) goes toward replacing and repairing Westminster’s aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Personnel expenses, including both salaries and benefits, are significant (17%) because it takes about 130 employees to operate Westminster’s water and wastewater systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Learn more about how we invest your water and sewer bill by clicking on the graphic below. 

What does the Meter Service Charge on my bill pay for?
The city’s entire water supply infrastructure system (from water storage to treatment plants, and from pumps to pipes) must be ready to provide clean, safe, drinking water at any moment of any day. This fixed monthly charge pays for that “readiness to serve” ability for the utility, ensuring that water reliably comes out of that tap whenever you need it.

What does the Stormwater Management Fee on my bill pay for?
This fee covers the entire range of services for a stormwater utility: maintenance, engineering and construction, environmental compliance, flood control, facility inspections, cleaning up and issuing fines for illegal dumping, and overseeing construction sites. This fee also pays for the city’s free hazardous household waste pick-up program and for the street sweeping program.  

What does the Infrastructure Fee on my bill pay for? 
This fee pays for a portion of the city’s concrete and street light costs.

I heard that the city has $100 million in the bank that they aren't using, is that true?
This money is entirely committed to (1) ongoing capital improvement projects to repair major infrastructure like pump stations and storage tanks, (2) a rate reserve to reduce the need to raise rates during a rainy year or economic recession when people use less water, (3) a capital improvement reserve to fund emergency projects that are necessary but not planned in the budget, (4) reserves for existing agreements and bond covenants and (5) outstanding bills and expenses that must be paid.

According to a financial “snap shot” as of December 31, 2018, the city’s utility fund had a little over $120,000,000 in assets with the majority of this money committed to projects and reserve funds including:

  • $72.2 million for ongoing capital improvement projects already approved to repair or replace existing infrastructure.
  • $16.5 million for a rate reserve
  • $19.2 million for a capital improvement reserve
  • Just under $4 million for reserves required under various existing agreements and bond covenants
  • The remaining $7.5 million was needed to pay outstanding bills at the time.

You can investigate this information further in the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Can the city’s General Fund (sales tax money) be used to help reduce my water and sewer bills? 

Because the utility is considered an Enterprise, City Council can adopt the rates and fees needed to fund these services. While City Council has the legal authority to subsidize the Utility Fund with the General Fund up to a certain amount, staff believes the financial management of the city is best served when rate payers directly fund the services they receive. In addition, the General Fund has its own infrastructure needs, and the use of the General Fund to offset Utility Fund needs would limit the resources to address those needs.