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August 8, 2012
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Sales tax and water plant: Watch out

So now it's up to Rifle voters to have a say in the ongoing city water treatment plant saga.

And I'm wondering how much heat our city fathers could face if the three-quarters of a cent sales tax hike is defeated in the November general election. That would mean our base water rates would have to really, really, REALLY go up to help cover the city's debt on its soon-to-close $25.5 million loan to pay for the new plant.

On the other hand, if voters approve the measure, our rates would not go up nearly as much. But they're still going up on Sept. 1. That decision was set in stone by the City Council earlier this year. And that's a little more than a month before the election. How could that affect the vote?

Can you imagine the angry words - maybe not spoken directly to the mayor or council - Rifle folks will shout when they get their utility bills and see how much their water rates soared? All I can say is I hope they have thick skins, just like a newspaper editor. (Not always, but usually.)

And don't forget the Garfield Legacy Project will have a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax question on the same ballot to fund a countywide agricultural land conservation and public open space program. I'd say that increases the chances of voters turning both questions down by a pretty big margin.

There may be other tax-related questions on the ballot, too, and it's always easy to say "no," "no," "no" when you and I feel so many people reaching for our wallets when we pick up our ballot.

It's going to take a very aggressive and consistent sales job to get Rifle voters on board. Does the city have such an effort ready to go? We'll see soon enough.

And we still haven't heard too much from the Rifle business community, at least in public. I know some have expressed misgivings and even opposition privately.

I've wrestled with favoring or opposing the new plant since I came back on board in April. I can definitely see a need to replace a 30-year-old plant that's obsolete and headed for the scrap heap at any time. But is the City Council's plan the best way to solve the problem? Yes, the cost is only going to go up the longer we wait. But wouldn't it make a lot of sense to somehow - OK, miraculously - have raw water for our lawns and then not need such a large, expensive plant to provide safe drinking water?

I know a raw water system would likely cost much more than $25.5 million, given the size of the city and how many of us live here. It would have to be built from scratch and require a lot of work. So how does the city pay for that? Can you imagine the tax hike, let alone the water rate hike we'd need? Holy cow.

I know ... can the city play the lottery?

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.


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The Post Independent Updated Aug 8, 2012 05:53PM Published Aug 8, 2012 05:52PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.