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Dozens crowd council meeting on water issues

by Eric Mullens

A large crowd interested in possible water haul rate increases filled council chambers Tuesday night. Former city councilman Rick Jennings (standing in blue shirt) also spoke about the Wednesday city-wide water shut off saying the city should have give more than 14-hours notice to residents and businesses. City public works director David Harriman is shown standing at the podium.

WALSENBURG — Approximately three dozen citizens attended the Walsenburg City Council meeting Tuesday night, most of them to speak on a water issue that wasn’t even on this week’s council agenda. Council spent the first hour of the meeting listening to comments from city residents and citizens who depend on water haul water for their homes. But, before those individuals spoke, former city councilman Rick Jennings kicked things off scolding the city for giving only 14 hours notice before a scheduled 4 am to 4 pm city-wide water shut off that happened Wednesday in conjunction with the Indiana Ave. project.

Walsenburg Public Works Director David Harriman said while discussions were held last week to select a day for the water shut off, conversations with the contractor indicated his price would go up with further delays. Harriman said the decision to shut off the water this week was an economic one. Gary Vezzani of Walsenburg Sand and Gravel, the contractor in question, said his company had already spent six weeks on what should have been a two week project. He said the city should have begun the work in October and his company had gone beyond their contract already trying to help city crews locate water lines and valves.

The majority of those who addressed city council were there to talk about proposed increases in water haul rates. The city council is expected to approve a rate structure for ‘off the wall’ water at their Dec. 19 session, as the prices have to be set before the new water haul dispensing system is installed. City council is expected to approve a water haul price resolution at their next meeting. Discussions by council and staff have indicated the resolution may include a $225 application fee, $5 card reload fee and pricing of 7¢ per gallon, with maximum use of 3,000 gallons per month. Ten individuals spoke out against the proposed price increase, with comments like “ be considerate of us” and “please take pity on those of us on fixed incomes.”

The council has made it clear it is attempting to have all water users share the costs of the city’s aging water infrastructure with the realignment of the water haul use rate. It is expected all available chairs in city haul will need to be used, again, to accommodate an anticipated large city council audience at the next regular meeting.

In other business:

The city council voted unanimously to appoint a new Ward III councilmember and city treasurer Tuesday night. Councilman Charles Montoya nominated Don Martinez, a very familiar face to his postal route customers as the new councilman. Martinez is a life-long resident of Walsenburg with a family history in the area dating back to the 1890s. The new city treasurer is also no stranger to Walsenburg residents. On a nomination by councilman Greg Daniels, former city councilman and former Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar was appointed on a 6-0 vote to the treasurer’s position. The city is still seeking a city clerk and Mayor Jim Eccher during the meeting attempted to recruit Brian Lelander for the job. Lelander said he would consider the offer and meet with Wanda Britt, deputy city clerk, to find out what the position would entail.

• The city council passed the 2018 budget this week and during the next council meeting will vote on the budget resolutions necessary to complete the process.

Walsenburg City Administrator James Toth said in his first budget message, “The city has made progress in its efforts to balance the general fund. We expect to have a positive fund balance at the end of 2018, the city is anticipating a nominal increase in sales tax revenues from the marijuana excise tax passed by voter on November 7, 2017 for use in the general fund to improve parks, code enforcement and youth related activities. Revenue and expenses will be closely monitored during 2018.”, Toth said personnel costs are a significant portion of budget expenses and employee benefits cost will increase by 5.5% for health and other benefits compared to the current budget year. The 2018 budget does include a 3% overall wage increase for city employees.

Walsenburg Finance Director Mark Ellis told the World Journal, “2018 is shaping up to be a year of stabilization and growth in the city. The city has made significant progress in its efforts to balance the general fund. The general fund is expected to have a positive fund balance for 2018.”

City water department employees worked overnight Tuesday into Wednesday to replace water line connections associated with the Indiana Ave. street project. The work caused a city-wide water shut off on Wednesday, and public comments during the Tuesday night city council meeting. Photos by Eric Mullens.

• Council approved two city ranch leases; one with Butch Corsentino and a short-term lease through April 2018 with the Silva family.

• Passed zoning Ordinances 1111 and 1112 on first reading.

• Voted to have the city participate in the county’s Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan. Councilmembers Dennis Hoyt and James Hudgens will lead the city efforts in defining potential hazards and working with Huerfano County Emergency Manager Larry Sanders to get city information to state and federal agencies.

• Approved an end of year appropriations resolution (Resolution 2017 R-19).

• Approved a liquor license renewal for Crown Lanes with Mayor Eccher abstaining from that vote as the business is owned by his family members.

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