Land sale could signal brighter economic future for city and county

WALSENBURG — Approximately 20 residents attended the Walsenburg City Council meeting Tuesday night, most there to hear what the city would do with water rates, and while they did learn that an increase was coming, they were also witness to a land sale by the city that could ensure an upturn in Walsenburg’s and Huerfano County’s economy over the next few years. Following a public presentation by Brian Trani, President and CEO of Martra Holdings, a land development and construction firm based in Denver, Colo., the city council voted 5-3 to sell a 330 acre portion of the city ranch to the company for $1,320,000. As stated in the motion to approve the contract by Mayor Pro Tem Craig Lessar, completion of the sale is subject to review by City Attorney Dan Hyatt. The motion was to take the proposal forward to the contract stage and accept the financial proposal. Council members Cathy Pineda, Rick Jennings and Silvana Lind voted against the measure. Walsenburg Mayor James Eccher, and council members Lessar, Charles Montoya, Nick Vigil and Clint Boehler voted in favor. While the move may have come as a surprise to audience members,

city administration, Mayor Eccher, and the city council have been aware of the potential project since initial talks began in mid-to-late August. Early discussions centered on a potential lease of the land to Martra Holdings, but then moved to the land purchase option. “Martra Holdings Co., will be the development company and anchor tenant in what could be known in the future as the Walsenburg Industrial Park”, Trani wrote to Mayor Eccher in correspondence dated November 10. The company will act as the industrial park’s management firm and will also be the construction component of individual lease boutique facilities designed for marijuana growing and processing operations. The company will also in the future likely become Walsenburg’s largest water consumer, with estimates at over 60,000 gallons a day with full occupancy of the boutiques within the first few years of operations. Within six months of the contract signing, the City of Walsenburg will receive a down payment of $264,000 and a nearly $25,000 earnest payment. In the coming year, land studies, environmental impact studies and planning will take place. In February 2016, according to the proposed sale agreement, the city will begin receiving the first of 120 monthly payments of $13,934.23. In a statement released after the Tuesday night meeting, Trani said, “Martra Holdings Co., a Colorado Corporation and land development company, is pleased to announce that they have reached a preliminary agreement with the City of Walsenburg to purchase over 300 acres of land from the city to be the future site of a large scale agricultural complex in Huerfano County, just outside the city of Walsenburg. In addition to the land purchase, Martra has initiated preliminary negotiations on a long term water purchase agreement with the city to supply the resources needed for this development as part of the development package. While the specifics of the agreement have yet to be disclosed to the public, the Walsenburg City Council voted in favor of approving the initial offer in regard to the land and water purchase contract on Tuesday evening. Final details of the purchases will be negotiated during the 60 day closing period. The project includes plans for laying necessary infrastructure in conjunction with the city and county to develop what is being proposed as the future ‘Walsenburg Industrial Park’. Martra Holdings is in the design and planning phases of a large scale agricultural facility for the Colorado market. The planned project will be the first of its kind in Colorado, providing state-of-the-art agricultural facilities utilizing eco-friendly technologies for up to 100 client tenants.” The Huerfano World Journal will have more about this project in future coverage. Water fee increase approved In other business Tuesday night, city council unanimously passed Ordinance 1051 on first reading. The ordinance establishes a ‘fee in lieu of tax’ on water and sewer enterprise revenues at six percent. The fee will be transferred from the water and sewer enterprise to the General Fund no less frequently than annually. In a 6-2 vote, the city council approved a water fee increase of 10-percent in Resolution 2014-R12 that will take effect after water meter readings are taken in mid-December, as reflected in consumer’s January 2015 utility bill. The rate increases includes: • Increasing the water system debt service from $18.05 to $19.86 for in city residents and from $22.56 to $24.82 for out-of-city users. • Increasing the repair-replacement cost on consumers’ monthly bills from $14.01 to $15.41 (in city) and from $18.51 to $20.39 for out-of-city users. • Water use/consumption will increase from $3.30 per 1,000 gallons to $3.63 per 1,000 gallons for city users and from $3.71 per 1,000 gallons to $4.09 per 1,000 gallons for out-of-city clients. The Resolution also calls for an ‘Out-of-Basin Augmentation Fee’ (also becoming effective Jan. 1, 2015), for service locations outside of the Cucharas Basin. These fees would be assessed in addition to the above fee schedule at a rate of $2.75 per 1,000 gallons in city and $2.75 per 1,000 gallons out of city. In addition, as of January 1, 2015 the water hauling rate will rise to $33 per 1,000 gallons and the Water Fire Hydrant Rate will be set at $22 per 1,000 gallons. Council members Jennings and Lessar voted against the Resolution. The city council unanimously approved the appointment of CDOT employee and four-year resident of Walsenburg, Troy Reeves, as the council member for Ward III, taking the seat vacated by James Baca until the next city election.