CENTER — Following last month’s contentious meetings over water and other utility issues, Center Town Manager Forrest Neuerburg, Mayor Susan Banning and Town Attorney Eugene Farish are working to resolve issues raised during the meetings.
Neuerburg said last week that he is seeking the State Attorney General’s opinion on exactly how a state statue applies to municipalities. The statutes in question appear to give the board the authority to proceed on their own, defining those using state guidelines as follows: “’Board’ means a governing body of any municipality or home rule county, a board of county commissioners of any county, a special district, or a board of education of any school district,” (C.R.S. 29-12.5-101).
Nevertheless, Neuerburg says he is requesting the AG’s opinion to clear up any possible misunderstanding on the matter and to exclude any “assumptions” on the part of town government. “We just need to work out whether all the procedures were followed and how the new statute applies to those procedures,” he remarked, calling the problem “a state versus municipality issue.”
“On the face of it,” Neuerburg noted, petitions signed by Center citizens and circulated at the July meetings did not meet legal guidelines.
To be considered in any decision-making process, they would need to list the addresses of the signers and be certified as requited by law, he said.
If the town cannot use their current energy contractor, Energy Systems Group, (ESG), “We’ll go to Plan B and try other ways to do it,” Neuerburg said. The town still could use ESG as its contractor, but will need to submit bids to other firms as well.
“The Dept. of Energy didn’t tell us about this process,” Banning said. “We were only their second municipality.”
Banning said that part of the problem is that Center has not been in the grant loop for decades and no one is familiar with what needs to be done.
When she took office earlier this year, Banning had noted that she was expected to do a job minus many of the records and directives she needed from previous board activities, because the necessary updating was never done.
“If this had been done 12 years ago when this water legislation was first passed, we wouldn’t be here,” Banning said. Monte Vista and other towns were in compliance with state law on when the meters were to be installed some time ago, she noted, but not Center.
If the current provider, ESG, cannot be used, Banning said that the town will have the option of securing grants and low-interest loans or taking out a revolving loan to finance the water meter installation and other needed upgrades.
But if loans need to be taken out, the water account has to show an equity amount and currently there is no equity. “That means that we would need to raise water rates even more than currently anticipated,” she pointed out.
More information on the project will be outlined in an upcoming town newsletter, Banning said.
One of the major complications in Center is that the town used more water annually than the national average, which could mean pinhole leaks in water lines as well as a lack of water conservation practices. But medium-sized industry in Center “could be using more water then we ever imagined” as well, Banning noted. It will take [remedying] all three to get our water under control.”
“My job as Mayor is to try and mend fences,” Banning said, indicating that she will work her hardest to accommodate those who are not happy with the prospect of a water bill increase. Still, she reminded residents, it is better than having an increase AND paying off fines at the rate of $20,000 a day, (for not installing water meters and having no water backflow protection).
“And yes, I’ve heard the recall rumors,” she said. “But I feel I have done more in three months than past mayors and their boards did in 24 years. And they did more things illegally than can be believed.”
“We need to be a law-abiding town — we are the largest municipality in the county and the third largest in the Valley.” Banning says that much of her job comes down to resolving problems “that could have been solved eight, 12, 15 years ago.”
As a board, she says, the town has done more in four months to make things legal than in years. Currently Banning is working to revise agendas for town meetings to better inform those attending.
Town Attorney Eugene Farish said that part of the problem is that “People don’t come to public sessions of the board meetings until the last minute and then they make allegations. They use the technique of trying to stop passage of the ordinances with petitions.”
He said the town will have public meetings on the matter so that they can go forward with meter installation, noting that, “all other municipalities already have put them in.”