EAGLE COUNTY — Voters in the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District overwhelmingly passed a pair of ballot issues Tuesday, meaning improvements to the district’s wastewater plants will be funded by taxes and not user fees. Voters also exempted the district from state restrictions on revenue collection and spending.
District voters also put a handful of longtime valley residents into four seats on the district’s board. Bill Simmons, Tom Allender and Rick Sackbauer were elected to four-year terms. Paul Testwuide will serve a two-year term.
Those board members will have some heavy lifting to do in implementing a plan that will see the district spend more than $90 million on facilities in the next several years.
SAVING MONEY LONGTERM
One part of that wide ranging project was the subject of Tuesday’s election. The district is under federal and state orders to improve its wastewater treatment plants in Vail, Avon and Edwards in order to reduce the amount of phosphates and nitrogen it puts into the streams at those sites. The improvements need to meet those new standards will cost about $25 million.
The district board could have raised rates for its customers, but it decided instead to ask for a small property tax increase. Using tax revenue instead of fee revenue to pay off the bonds issued for the work will save the district $1.8 million throughout the life of the bond.
The board also asked voters to exempt the district from some of the revenue and spending restrictions imposed by TABOR, a 1992 amendment to the state constitution that limits local and state governments’ ability to raise taxes and spend money.
Opponents of the measure, including candidate Sounia Nejad Chaney, said they didn’t want the district to exempt itself from TABOR restrictions. Supporters said that question would allow the district to collect grants and spend the money on needed improvements.
Incumbent board members said they were concerned about the required language for the ballot issues. That ballot language was dense at best, confusing at worst.
Dense legalese aside, voters apparently agreed with district officials’ arguments for the two ballot measures, passing both by large margins.
NEW BOARD MEMBERS
New board member Bill Simmons said the job of the new board members is to take the work of the previous board “and make sure the work is done as efficiently as possible.”
Rick Sackbauer is jumping straight from a seat on the Vail Recreation District board into the water and sanitation district board. He said he was pleased by the members voters selected.
Sackbauer was particularly happy to see Simmons elected to the district board. Simmons is a member of the Edwards Metropolitan District board and lives in Old Edwards Estates.
Having an Edwards resident on the board will be important because much of the district’s wastewater treatment, especially treating “solid” material, is moving to Edwards in the near future. Simmons will have be an important voice for residents in that area, Sackbauer said.
Sackbauer also had high praise for Testwuide, a longtime valley resident who has done much work on water rights and treatment over the years.
“Paul’s a deal-maker,” Sackbauer said. That’s going to be important as the district deals with state, federal and Front Range interests over the next few years.
“You really couldn’t ask for better people,” he said.