Gunnison considering new ideas
on charging for water connections
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—In an effort to be fair, accurate and lawful with city water connection fees, the Gunnison City Council is looking into new approaches to charging for a water connection.
Councilman Robert Anderson, who was in charge of the matter, told his fellow councilmembers at a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 19 that it was a more complicated issue than one might think.
According to state law, a municipality is not allowed to make profit off either a water connection or sewer connection. The city must bill its costs, but no more. This careful balance is complicated further by a few other factors.
Because the city water lines typically run on one side of the road, the amount of pipe and labor required to install a new water connection varies significantly, and so does the cost. The actual cost of labor and supplies to put in a connection is less expensive for properties geographically closer to the main water line.
Gunnison City charges a flat $1000 fee for a new water connection. Due to the letter of the law, some might argue a flat water connection fee was neither fair nor lawful, but mayor Lori Nay said in the meeting that the city has not been charging for water connection related labor anyway, which is resulting in a loss of money by the city.
“In a lot of these cities, people who have shorter connections are calling the cities on it,” said Gunnison City Recorder Janell Braithwaite. “The cities usually lose.”
After a meeting with representatives from Rural Water for a training session last month, they suggested the city take a closer look into ensuring accurate water connection fees, Anderson began to look into the issue and costs surrounding it.
One thing he said he found in relation to water connection fees was that when the city began the milestone overhaul of the municipal water system in 2014, they committed to a state-of-the-art (but more expensive) water meter to work efficiently with the new city water system.
“When we put this new water system in, we went to a Master Meter, and there is only one source to get that meter,” Anderson said. “The ones that other places sell are not compatible. If we wanted to switch to a different meter that was less expensive it wouldn’t be compatible with our water system. It is what it is.”
The meter system the city chose is the Master Meter, is a “smart” water meter system, which works in conjunction with software that analyzes water flow data to maintain accurate readings and related fees.
The high tech nature of the Master Meter, and its larger, high-flow output ports raise its overall cost, but the manufacturers of the smart meter claim a long term savings and reliability advantage.
An option being considered for handling the complicated nature of water connection installs and associated fees was approving certain qualified contractors to handle the cost quote and pipe install, thus relieving the city’s responsibility to handle the complex duty of determining accurate connection fees.
The city would still be involved with the process under this proposed idea. Legal requirements for the city to maintain code mandates that involvement, and for this reason a water connection inspection fee would likely be instituted to offset the cost of the city’s participation in the connection process. The sale of the actual Master Meter would still have to go through the city as well, for a flat, actual cost.
“An important part of doing it this way is having city approved installers,” Anderson said. “People we feel good about.”
Anderson told the council that he was attending the upcoming Rural Water Conference and planned on using the resources available there to look into the matter further.
“I’ll be working on it at Rural Water, but there’s no real crystal ball into this,” he said. “It is just going to take some more work.”
Mayor Nay said, “It all comes back to the people in town here. They shouldn’t have to pay the extra costs for someone else’s new construction.”