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Residential Customer FAQ

What specific rates are going up 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 will the new rates be?
View a chart for the 2019 and the 2020 rate schedule.

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. View the HOA/Schools/Church Customer page.  

What does the Meter Service Charge/Water Utility Infrastructure 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 Meter Service Charge/Water Utility Infrastructure 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 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.

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.

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 increase every year as our costs such as labor, parts, chemicals and contracts increase. Please see the budgets for 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 budget cycles to get an idea of how our expenses have increased annually.

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. Staff presented a staff report to City Council on April 16, 2018 detailing the needs of the Utility and the associated costs. View the staff report

Staff has presented City Council with a number of other foundational documents (see below) explaining the water/sewer rate and tap fee needs and processes. 
Water and Sewer Rate/Fee Study Update - Dec. 4, 2017                 
Water and Sewer Rate/Fee Study Update – Infrastructure - April 2, 2018             
Utility Infrastructure Overview/Primer for Rate and Fee Recommendations    
Water/Sewer Rate/Fee Study – Tap Fees - April 23, 2018                               
Presentation of Water and Sewer Rate/Fee Study – Tap Fees - May 7, 2018               
Water and Sewer Rate/Fee Study – Rates - May 14, 2018               
Presentation of Water/Sewer Rate and Fee Study – Proposed 2019/2020 Rates - July 16, 2018
Updated Sewer Tap Fees with Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Component – Aug. 13, 2018 
Staff Presentation Regarding Proposed 2019 and 2020 Water and Sewer Rates and Tap Fees – Sept. 10, 2018
First Reading of Councillor’s Bill No. 37 re: 2019 and 2020 Water and Wastewater Rate Recommendations – Sept. 24, 2018
First Reading of Councillor’s Bill No. 38 re: 2019 and 2020 Water and Wastewater Tap Fee Recommendations – Sept. 24, 2018
Second Reading of Councillor’s Bill No. 37 re: 2019 and 2020 Water and Wastewater Rate Recommendations – Oct. 8, 2018
Second Reading of Councillor’s Bill No. 38 re: 2019 and 2020 Water and Wastewater Tap Fee Recommendations– Oct. 8, 2018

How are sewer rates changing? How do you calculate those amounts, and is that process changing?
Sewer rates will increase in 2019 and 2020. 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, will 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 will provide a similar level of equity.

We don’t use much water in our house at all, and have worked hard in the past to keep our indoor water use to a minimum. Why are you charging me sewer rates as if I were using more water? 
Staff recognizes that even though some customers 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, will 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 will provide a similar level of equity.

Sewer Fee Chart

Sewer Rates

Who makes the decision to increase rates?
City Council had the first reading of the proposed rate increase on Monday, Sept. 24, during their regular meeting. There was a presentation on the proposal on Sept. 10. View the presentation. This was an opportunity for the public to provide comments and ask questions.

When will the increase go into effect?
Jan. 1, 2019 and Jan. 1, 2020

What have water rate increases been in the past?
The rates for the past 5 years are listed below. These are combined water/sewer single-family AVERAGE increases. Below is a chart going back to 2001 showing the increase history.

2018: $5.01 average increase per month
2017: $4.67 average increase per month
2016: $2.94 average increase per month
2015: $2.80 average increase per month
2014: $2.13 average increase per month
2013: $2.03 average increase per month

rate increase for the past 20 years

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. 

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. The rate study completed this year documents what it actually costs to operate the city’s water utility, and the proposed rates are designed to cover those costs. 

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. That’s the reason why the rate increase for Tier 1 is less than the rate increase for Tiers 2 and 3. We’ve also expanded the water use allowed in the lowest priced water tier (Tier 1) from 4,000 gallons per month to 6,000 gallons per month so that the vast majority of our customers have enough water in the 1st Tier to take care of all of the non-discretionary water use that occurs inside your home. This includes activities such as food preparation, showers and bathing, flushing your toilet, washing dishes and your clothes. 

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. 

Part of the 2019 rate proposal is for all residential, single-family users within the city to pay the same amount for the water they consume. The proposed rate defines “tiers” which set a rate of $3.57 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons used, consumption of the next 15,000 gallons costs $7.35 per thousand gallons, and consumption above 21,000 gallons costs $11.62 per thousand gallons. 

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. The utility does not pay for anything else. 

What kind of projects does the utility do? How does the utility spend the money that it receives from customers?
The Water and Sewer Utility combined have a replacement value of approx. $4 billion. A system of this size and complexity requires significant planning and reinvestment to ensure that we provide you with safe, clean drinking water and reliable wastewater service day in, day out. 

View a list of the utility projects that we’ve included in the last several budget cycles (2011-2018) to provide some context for what those projects are, and what they cost. Over that 8 year period, there was a total of $183.4 million approved for water and wastewater projects, which is an average of about $23 million per year. There was an increase of 2016 project spending due to a $51 million bond issuance, and the increases in 2017 and 2018 were due to the 8 percent and 6 percent rate increases for water and sewer, respectively.  

With a $4 billion total asset value today, the 8-year total represents about a 0.5 percent annual reinvestment rate; or about a 200-year life cycle. 

Please also review the CIP list for 2019 and 2020. This list is in the budget that passed on first reading on Oct. 8. The 2019-2020 adopted Capital Improvement Program (CIP) list includes a water and wastewater project total of $122.8 million for 2019 and $16.1 million for 2020. These amounts include approx. $102 million of debt issuance in 2019.

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. 

What is the cost to upgrade the water system?
The Utility Fund Capital Improvement Program (CIP) projects in the adopted 2019/2020 budget were provided to City Council in a post-meeting on Aug 27. View the staff report (a link to the project titles and funding amounts, as well as project descriptions are located at the bottom of the report). The water and wastewater projects on that list are also factored into the 2019/2020 water and sewer rates that were adopted by City Council on Oct. 8. There is a CIP project list as part of each 2-year budget to address ongoing project needs for the Utility.  

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.

The presentation to council in July talked about an “overall” rate increase in each year, what does that mean? Why would my rates as a homeowner be different from the “overall” rate?
The rates are going to vary based on what kind of customer you are. We have lots of different types of customers-homeowners, restaurants, offices, apartment buildings, hotels, schools and parks/green spaces, for example. All of these customers use water very differently from each other. 

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. 

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.

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. 

Did the temporary moratorium the city enacted for development applications cause the water and sewer rate or tap fee increases?
No, the water, sewer and tap fee increases are the result of a year-long study and reflect the demands of operating and investing in a $4 billion infrastructure that is critical to provide safe, high quality, compliant and reliable water and sewer services to customers. Such a study had not been performed since 2006, and it clearly revealed that rates and fees were not keeping pace with infrastructure needs. More information on the moratorium is on the city website.

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. 

Are there planned utility construction projects that have been accelerated due to growth?
Yes, the Big Dry Creek Interceptor Sewer construction funding originally programmed for 2022 and 2023 is proposed to move forward to 2019. It should be noted that this project is predominantly to address known age and condition concerns, but it will simultaneously address some capacity concern within the sewer system.

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.

How do Westminster’s utility rates compare to other cities?
The City of Westminster’s 2018 rates are in the middle of the range compared to other Front Range communities. We do a survey every year to find out where Westminster is on this chart, and we’ll update the chart in 2019 once we know what other cities are doing with their water and sewer rates. View a list of individual city rates as surveyed in early 2018 (check individual city websites for current rates).

Rate comparison chart