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Cortez council considers charging snowbirds for water, trash

Public works staff members recommend changing water and trash fee policies
The Cortez City Service Center on 110 Progress Circle, which houses the General Services and Public Works departments.

In a Tuesday workshop, the Cortez City Council discussed the possibility of changing the city policy on water and trash fees for residents who don’t live there in the winter.

Public Works Director Phil Johnson said the town has many “snowbird” residents who regularly turn their water off, suspend trash collection and leave town for months at a time. The city currently does not bill people when their water isn’t running, and often will not charge them if they turn on the water for a few days and then leave again. But Johnson and City Manager Shane Hale said the city ordinance is contradictory and might give some people an unfair advantage.

The city code requires the council to set a minimum monthly water bill for residents based on the number of meters they use, Johnson said, but it also says residents won’t be billed if they ask the city to turn off their water for more than a month. Refuse collection follows a similar principle. Hale said the city would be more able to pay for the expense of providing those services if it charged the minimum fee even to residents who are not using the service.

“I think it’s really a question of fairness,” he said.

He said he has owned homes in other towns where the monthly fee for utilities stayed constant, whether he was using the service or not. He also mentioned that the Cortez Sanitation District charges residents a sewer bill even when they’re out of town. One resident complained about that practice at a Sanitation District meeting in May, but its board of directors has not discussed any plans to change it.

Finance Director Kathi Moss said many “snowbirds” return for a few days during the winter and turn the water back on, but they don’t always notify the city, so they aren’t charged. The added fee, Hale said, would probably affect 25 to 30 Cortez residents who own second homes elsewhere. But some council members said they wouldn’t be comfortable changing the code.

“If it’s not being utilized, people just don’t think they should have to pay for it,” Shawna McLaughlin said. “That’s my experience.”

Council member Jill Carlson said it might be worthwhile in order to make water billing “more fair.” Johnson said much of the problem could be solved if the council changed the water and trash ordinances’ wording to make them more consistent.

The council did not come to a decision about the policy at Tuesday’s workshop, but Hale said he and Johnson would do more research on other towns’ snowbird policies and put the issue back on the agenda for a later workshop.

Other action

During a busy workshop on Tuesday, the council also heard a presentation from Matt Keefauver of Southwest Open School on the Montezuma-Cortez School District’s upcoming mill levy override ballot initiative. Kelly Kirkpatrick, of Mesa Verde Country, gave a presentation on tourism in the county in which she said the number of visitors at every major historical site had increased over the past year, with Hovenweep National Monument showing the most growth at 40 percent. General Services Director Rick Smith discussed his plan to install fiber optic lines along six new routes in the city’s fiber expansion project which started earlier this year, an item that was also on the council’s regular meeting agenda for the evening. Council members also expressed their support for Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Dean Palmquist’s plan to create the position of golf superintendent at the Conquistador Golf Course.

In addition to a discussion on a change of premises for KSJD Radio, the council:

Approved the final plat of a minor subdivision on Cedar StreetApproved the preliminary plat of a subdivision of city-owned property on Montezuma County Public Facilities land northwest of the intersection of Driscoll Street and Mildred Road.Awarded a construction bid to The Stone and Paver Company for $43,900 to build a “Gateway Monument” on city-owned property on North Broadway.Approved a $340,548.60 change order to DAK Drilling and Well Service to install underground and aerial fiber optics along several routes in the city.Passed an ordinance establishing a uniform set of definitions for items Cortez businesses can purchase outside the city, for sales and use tax purposes.

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