Water district mulls halt to impact fees

Last week, the San Juan Water Conservancy District Board of Directors adopted budgets and joined a cloud-seeding program, but failed to approve a resolution suspending the collection of impact fees. Work toward that end will apparently continue next month.

As with other area governments and special districts, December is budget time for the district, and its board of directors adopted amended 2008 and final 2009 budgets, Dec. 10.

Above all, the SJWCD is charged with providing its constituents a dependable and sustainable source of water supply. Therefore, obtaining resources for future raw water storage ranks high on its list of primary functions.

To accomplish the task, the district relies heavily on its legal taxing authority to generate income, but also looks to the collection of impact fees, interest and outside grants as sources of revenue sufficient to purchase land or water rights, as needed.

To assist in the purchase of property for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir two miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, the district applied for and received a $1 million grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. With the grant funded in 2007, the district believed the land purchase would also close that same year. As a result, its 2008 budget adopted in December 2007 showed a beginning balance of $132,167.

However, the land purchase failed to close until early 2008. Additionally, revenue from impact fees (collected through the town) fell well short of expectations, as other income and expenditures also fluctuated from earlier predictions. Hence, the district was forced to amend its 2008 budget to reflect a new beginning balance of about $1.26 million.

While the original 2008 budget anticipated $30,000 in impact fees revenue, the actual income from that source totaled just $9,000. Meanwhile, actual expenses related to Dry Gulch increased from an earlier forecast of $139,550 to $1,070,000, in large part, because of the delayed land purchase closing.

Following are highlights of the amended 2008 and adopted 2009 budgets:

• Beginning 2008 balance of $1,260,057.

• Total revenues of $173,614.

• Total expenses of $1,137,560.

• Ending 2008 balance of $296,111.

• Beginning 2009 balance of $296,111.

• Total revenues of $154,095.

• Total expenses of $224,771.

• Ending 2009 balance of $225,435.

For a detailed look at the 2009 San Juan Water Conservancy District budget, including amended 2008 figures, visit SJWCD.org and click on “Financials.” Hard copies are available at the district office at 100 Lyn Ave.

Again, the SJWCD has agreed to participate in a cloud seeding, or weather modification, program. Conducted by Western Weather Consultants (WWC) of Durango, the program artificially induces suspended atmospheric moisture to fall in the form of snow, by burning silver iodide and introducing its vapors into the clouds. Though scientific studies are inconclusive, WWC claims it can boost precipitation by up to 15 percent under ideal conditions.

As currently designed, the plan includes “360 seeding hours” over a three-month period, and utilizes 10 iodide-burning generators placed in and around the Upper Florida Drainage Basin. The total estimated cost of the plan is $85,824.

Aside from the SJWCD, several different program participants include the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the city of Durango, the Florida Water Conservancy District, the Pine River Irrigation District and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD).

Both the SJWCD and PAWSD are considered “standby” participants, rather than full program participants. The difference relates to the availability and utilization of equipment used in “seeding” clouds. Without at least standby involvement, no seeding generators would be in place to benefit participants, as storms pass through.

Standby participants contribute a smaller specified amount toward the cost of keeping seeding equipment in place and ready for use. If a standby participant chooses to upgrade its level of involvement, a simple phone call will activate use of the equipment most advantageous to its particular needs. Otherwise, the participant relies solely on natural snowfall for all its precipitation.

Full program participants, on the other hand, pay for the placement and actual use of seeding equipment, as weather conditions warrant.

Last month, the SJWCD board voted to draft a resolution that would temporarily suspend collection of impact fees on new construction within the district. However, the version of a resolution presented to the board last week failed to garner sufficient support for adoption.

According to board president Ernie Amos, most board members were uncomfortable with the prescribed duration of the suspension, as well as some of the wording contained within the resolution itself. He suggested that a modified version will likely be considered in January.

In light of a current economic downturn, the board had hoped to adopt a resolution, suspending collection of impact fees by Jan. 1.

Since February 2007, the town has assessed a $1,129 per-equivalent-unit fee on behalf of the district, to aid in funding the development of future water rights and storage, including those associated with the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

Because special districts cannot assess impact fees on their own, the town assesses impact fees to fund certain projects and other special districts, including fire, health and education.

Though the district must generate revenue to offset costs connected to its primary mission, its board of directors has apparently chosen to focus more on obtaining suitable grants, rather than imposing burdensome fees on fellow constituents. At this point, until an acceptable resolution is finally adopted, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the suspension will actually begin, or how long it will last.

chuck@pagosasun.com