Utility Code Questions and Recent Changes Explained

The recent increase in water rates is a hot topic of discussion. The reasons for the increase were explained in articles over the past several months. This post covers some other changes to the utility code and fee schedule. I would also like to address a few of the questions that customers frequently ask about their bills.

Charges for accounts with water and service extended from a residence to an accessory structure on the property are different under the new code and rate schedule. Previously, the accessory structure was considered a second living unit, just like a duplex unit. Many of these structures actually serve as an extension of the primary residence, such as a guest room, workshop or studio. Homeowners with this type of property may now sign an agreement with the City that legally places a restriction on the property. If the property is treated as a single-family residence, these customers may suspend separate quarterly water and sewer fees related for the accessory structure. Water usage is measured on a single meter for both structures on the property and charged to the account in total.

Homeowners considering an expansion of their living space with a new accessory structure may suspend payment of any tap fees and service charges by entering an agreement that legally restricts rental of one of the structures. The rental or either the primary or secondary structure results in two living units rather than a single-family residence. The property owner may remove the restriction at any time in the future by first paying current tap fees.

Once we have these agreements finalized, we will have them available at city hall and on our website.

Accounts for properties with both a primary and secondary structure that do not opt for the “single-family restriction” are also treated differently now. Previously, the utility code treated this type of property as a duplex. Under the new rate schedule, the secondary structure is charged half the amount of tap fees and fixed service fees plus usage at normal rates.

Another change in the rate schedule applies fixed charges consistently to all units in residential multi-family structures. Previously, the fixed charge for water service was applied equally to each unit; however, the fixed charge for sewer service was discounted 25% for additional units. The fixed water line maintenance charge was applied per account rather than per unit. The new rate structure simply treats each living unit the same regardless of whether it has an attached wall or is a single-family residence. In other words, each unit in a duplex or triplex is treated the same as a house.

The billing for our multi-family accounts did not go quite as smoothly as we would have liked. We apologize to the customers who received a couple of revised bills before these were correct.

The new rates include double the volume of water, or 6,000 gallons, included with the base fee. Many people have expressed concern that residents will stop caring for their yards because of the increase in rates. The base service charges increased at a greater rate than the volume (or usage) charges. Most of the costs necessary to provide water and sewer service are fixed. Thanks to the planning of previous City Councils, Salida has plenty of water available to serve its residents and visitors. Although water conservation is encouraged by many, including some members of the city council, water usage is generally not an issue in Salida. However, the city was unable to keep up with the ongoing costs for deferred maintenance, recent capital improvements and expansions financed with debt, and the rising operating costs. The new rates shifted a greater proportion of total revenue from volume to fixed fees to match the costs this revenue must cover.

Elected officials and staff members are frequently asked about sewer usage charges that are based on metered water usage. Residential customers are charged for sewer usage based on the amount of water used during the fall and winter months when little outside watering occurs. This billing practice is based on the assumption that essentially all water used during the fall and winter months is for household use that exits the property through the sewer system.

Commercial customers with property that requires irrigation in the summertime may apply to the city for a credit on their sewer bill for the estimated usage charge that applies to water that does not enter the sewer system.

We have also received some requests to turn off service. In order to keep an account, payment of base quarterly fees is required. If the account is closed and the tap abandoned, payment of system development fees would be required to re-open the account.

Finally, we appreciate all the feedback we received from customers who took our survey either at City Hall, the library or on-line. We will address this feedback in a future post.