Rifle water tank near failure
RIFLE — With the city’s largest water storage tank on the verge of failing, a catastrophic event that would leave Rifle essentially waterless, City Council on Wednesday signed off on a surcharge to help pay for repairs and the construction of a new tank.
Starting Oct. 1, bill payers will notice an additional fee amounting to 7 percent of their total water bill. That rate increases to 12 percent Jan. 1, 2016.
It was a difficult decision, but the city had “no other options,” Mayor Randy Winkler said shortly before joining five councilors — Councilor Jonathan Rice was absent — in approving a series of emergency ordinances addressing the issue.
Last fall, an inspection of Rifle’s 3-million-gallon tank revealed significant corrosion in its roof. An engineering analysis of the structure suggested the city not go another winter without taking action.
If the tank went down it could cripple the remaining water infrastructure, effectively leaving the city without the water for months, said Matt Sturgeon, city manager. For that same reason the city cannot take the tank offline to make repairs without having another structure to store the water. After evaluating several options, none of which were feasible, staff realized a new 2-million-gallon tank, which could be used to support population growth once the project is complete, was the best option.
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In total, the project is expected to cost at least $4.3 million. NBH Bank, the organization lending money for the project, wanted a guaranteed revenue stream to service the debt, and with the recent construction of a new wastewater treatment facility and the current construction of a water treatment plant, the city had no choice but to implement a surcharge, Sturgeon said. He added that the percentage could decrease after the first year if Rifle’s population continues to grow.
Despite the need, the surcharge feels like an added tax, said Chris Krelovich, owner of Fourth Street Dry Cleaning. Krelovich, who pays around $1,000 per month for his water bill, said the surcharge would likely translate to higher prices for his customers.
Obviously the city cannot risk going without water, but he questioned why, if the problem is as dire as the city says, was the issue just recently recognized.
“You don’t drive a car until it breaks down and then change the oil,” Krelovich said.
The city inspects all of its tanks every four years, which is the industry standard, Sturgeon said while sympathizing with Krelovich and other business owners and residents.
Implementation of the surcharge is designed to prevent impact during peak water usage months in the summer for the first year, Jim Neu, city attorney, told council.
The city last increased its water rates in 2012 to help pay for the new water treatment plant, but it “backed off” those increases after voters approved a 0.75 percent sales tax that November, Sturgeon said.
While the sales tax is covering the debt for the new plant, decades of deferred maintenance brought on by the “boom-bust” nature of the economy is starting to show, and the city has no choice but to perform “triage,” he added.
The need is understandable, said Lilly Hernandez, Rifle resident and owner of Lilly’s Kitchen, a restaurant in downtown Rifle. As a homeowner, Hernandez said the improvements could be a good thing for the community, noting that there are ways to cut down on the water bill at home.
But as a business owner, the surcharge is an added expense that cannot be mitigated. Employees must wash their hands, and restaurateurs cannot recycle water like residents can, she said.
Since Hernandez wants to avoid price increases, she plans on compensating for the surcharge by working more at the restaurant and reducing her employees’ hours.
“There’s no other way,” she said. “When you run a business every penny counts, especially when you’re trying to provide low prices.”