After hundreds of comments and concerns from Rifle residents at several recent meetings, the City Council has extended the time it has to finalize plans for a $25.5 million new water treatment plant.
Two identical 5-2 votes were taken at the council's Monday meeting, the first on an "emergency" ordinance that did not get the 75 percent approval required, or at least a 6-1 vote. It failed, and the second 5-2 vote approved a regular ordinance that allows the city to close on a loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Authority in August to build the plant.
City officials have said the existing Graham Mesa plant is aging, undersized to serve projected population growth and unable to meet possible tougher federal water quality standards in the future.
Under the water rate structure approved earlier this year by council to help repay the loan and cover operating costs of the new plant, the base rate charged to city water users would nearly double. (See rates on page 13).
City Attorney Jim Neu said the original ordinance approving the funding arrangement called for a loan closing date of June 17, the day before council met.
"This ordinance is otherwise the same as the one you approved (in April)," Neu said. "It gives you a year long process so there's not the time concerns like you had before."
The move likely means the low 2.5 percent interest rate the authority offered on a 20-year loan will increase, and the bonds will get a new rating, Neu said.
Mayor Jay Miller said the regular ordinance could mean the city will spend another $18,000 to process the new paperwork.
Neu and Miller noted the council has to approve this ordinance on second reading at its July 2 meeting before it takes effect.
Neu also said Tuesday that if the city closes on the funding with the authority, that doesn't mean it has to spend all $25.5 million on the new plant.
"There's no prepayment penalty, so we could build it for less," he added.
City staff members were "looking under all the rocks, every nook and cranny," Miller said at the council meeting, to find money to help reduce the cost of the new plant.
Councilman Keith Lambert said city reserve funds have long been used for "big ticket items," such as city infrastructure and a new plant seemed like an "appropriate" use of that money.
"I hope the citizens realize, though, that if we do that, some of the other projects will be slowed down," Lambert added. "But it could help us buy down the loan amount and that would benefit everyone."
Councilmembers Randy Winkler and Jennifer Sanborn were the dissenting votes both times. Winkler said he approached the entire issue without trying to "persuade" residents the city's plans were what residents needed.
"I look at my job as listening to everyone," he added. "City staff, citizens and anyone else. I heard from a lot of the older folks who've been around and when something broke down, they didn't go out and buy a new piece of equipment. They fixed it. I think it's that kind of innovative thinking we need and we need the time to do that."
Sanborn said she has doubts the $25.5 million project, as planned, is really needed at this time.
"There were some less expensive options taken off the table early on," she said. "Before we started taking all this public comment. So now the city plan is under pressure from what seems like a third of the community. I've never seen any project we've done have a third of the people opposed to it."
Councilman Alan Lambert said he wasn't sure a third of the Rifle community is opposed to the project, as Sanborn estimated.
"But financially, I know it's a big concern," he said. "We're not going to turn Rifle into a big, sandy desert (due to fewer people watering their lawns in response to higher rates). And we won't bring financial ruin to the city."