Legislation on sewer rates on hold

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Littleton, connector districts still negotiating

By AJ Vicens

A bill born from the conflict between the city of Littleton and South Jeffco water and sanitation districts is dead in the water, as the parties continue to negotiate. But the legislation still could resurface.

"I'm hoping that our friend Doug Clark will continue to work in good faith with the connector districts," said state Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton. Kerr was referring to Littleton Mayor Doug Clark, the public face of the city's decision to raise sewer rates 26 percent on South Jeffco residents over the last two years, while raising rates for city residents just 6 percent.

Clark has always insisted that the city's rate-setting methods are fair, but the connector districts serving tens of thousands of South Jeffco residents alleged that the rates were arbitrary and demanded a seat at the rate-setting table.

As the conflict grew, the connector districts enlisted the help of Kerr and state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton. Kopp added an amendment to a PUC reauthorization bill in May 2008 that would have let the Public Utilities Commission regulate Littleton's rate-setting, but the city's lobbyists managed to get it stripped from the PUC legislation.

Clark said current negotiations are moving forward, but he'll wait and see if the good faith holds.

"They're sending proposals for contract changes," Clark said. "We'll see what the proposals end up being."

Clark has consistently said the connector districts will have no say on rate-setting so long as they don't accept responsibility for a portion of the tens of millions of dollars in debt payments outstanding on the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant. Clark said the connector districts hadn't yet agreed to take on the debt.

Clark added that every time the Littleton City Council holds public hearings on the rate discussions, few, if any, angry people attend.

"They talk about the access," Clark said. "We have a public hearing, and no one shows up."

Pat Fitzgerald, manager of the Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District, said the districts are willing to pay on the debt.

"We've offered to sit down and amend the contracts to assume responsibility for a portion of the debt for the treatment plant," Fitzgerald said. "In exchange, we would receive at least an advisory role in the rate-setting."

Kerr said Clark went to a homeowner association meeting Feb. 9 to make his case for Littleton.

"Which is kind of bizarre," Kerr said. "It was probably (Clark's) normal baffle-and-dazzle presentation."

Clark said there was nothing bizarre about his trip to a South Jeffco HOA meeting. He said he received several e-mails saying that Littleton was treating South Jeffco residents unfairly, so he offered to come to an HOA meeting and make his case.

Fitzgerald isn't necessarily disappointed that Kerr's legislation isn't going forward.

"I'm happy we may be able to accomplish our goal without legislation," Fitzgerald said. "But if this negotiation proves to be fruitless, we'll probably be back with legislation again next year."

Kerr said that if negotiations fall through, he'll try to run the bill again, possibly by trying Kopp's idea from 2008 to authorize the PUC to regulate rate-setting.

"But I may run it again next year," Kerr said. "Just because I think it's necessary."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.