Bruce Baker, TABOR, Westminster

Baker: Westminster’s predatory water rate increase makes ratepayers poorer, the city less green

The simple question staggered my spouse so much I immediately regretted asking. The question was: “So, do we design a new landscape plan or do we move?”  Westminster City Council will soon be voting on an increased water rate schedule.  The 61 thousand gallons of water I use in a typical summer month, which cost $207 in 1999, $294 in 2007 and $477 this last July, will cost $724 in 2020 under the proposed rate schedule.  I can’t pay that.

Furthermore, I do not understand why this rate increase is necessary.  I was on City Council from 2013 to 2017.  During my term, Council was repeatedly reassured that there were no problems in our long-range plans for re-investment/replacement of capital assets.  Water system consultant studies in 2012 and 2015 confirmed the strength of our infrastructure plans.  Bond issues of over $42 million dollars were completed in 2016 as part of the plan. To underscore the City’s confidence in our planning, Council in 2017 passed (6 to 1) a plan to start building an unnecessary, $20 million-dollar bio-solids dewatering plant.

Now, a year after I left Council, how is it Westminster is in such critical need of infrastructure that these predatory increases are needed.

And they are predatory increases.  This is just a way to extract more revenue from residents because the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) does not protect people from fee increases.

If this rate increase passes, virtually all water used outside of a home with an average family of four in Westminster will cost at least $8.15 per thousand gallons used, and further jump to $12.88 per thousand for water use over 20,000 gallons per month.  This compares to highest Denver water rate of $5.50, or Green Mountain Water and Sanitation District (in Lakewood) at $5.99, Aurora at $7.74, Fort Collins at $4.58, or $3.09 in Loveland.

Westminster rates are said to be needed to raise more money, but tiered water rates reduce water use.  By overcharging for every drop of landscape water there will be some more money, but also less water use.  For neighborhoods that have Home Owners Association landscape mandates, the residents will have no choice than to pay the high prices.  In other parts of Westminster people will use less water by either switching to lower water use landscapes, or just let their landscape degrade along the lines of a low-end rental property.

If money was the true issue, lowering the top price of water would produce much more revenue.  Water has an elastic price curve and Westminster has water it could sell.  The marginal cost of producing additional water is far lower than a lowered top tier price, so Westminster could make money and happy residents simultaneously.

The explanations and economics for this predatory rate increase don’t make sense.  The worst part of this price hike is what it will do to Westminster in the long run.  Beautiful green landscapes have a dramatic impact and are a hallmark of Westminster.  Westminster mandates huge greenspace requirements on developments.  Splashes of colors, flowers and textures dependent on water makes Westminster who we are.  Neighborhoods in Westminster will lose some of the power and beauty of our watered landscapes.

For Original Westminster, high prices will be crushing.  While I was on Council we spoke of ways and programs to encourage Original Westminster to improve their landscapes and gain parity with newer parts of the city.  This new rate schedule will make that impossible.

I can’t afford high priced water and I think other residents will struggle to pay the new, high price.  Westminster will become duller, deadened and more disgusted with government.  Original Westminster will become drier, dirty, and more discarded than ever.

Bruce Baker if a Westminster resident and a former city council member.


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