TELLURIDE BRIEFS | SMARTS Park Founder Floats New Funding Proposal
by Samantha Wright
Jun 23, 2013 | 1376 views | 0 0 comments | 121 121 recommendations | email to a friend | print

TELLURIDE - Jonathan Greenspan has a new idea for funding of a zero waste resource recovery center in San Miguel County that handles all of its own diversion and current recycling needs and processes them onsite for reuse. 

A facility for achieving this vision is already in place in Ilium Valley, in the form of SMARTS Park, which Greenspan founded and has largely sustained so far out of his own pocket.

For the past year or so, Greenspan has been searching for a better way to fund the facility, which costs about $650,000 annually to operate. In late 2012, he proposed a 0.004 percent “use tax” built into all sales in an as-yet-to-be-determined district. Through such a tax, the cost of sustaining SMARTS Park (or some other entity like it) would be distributed among the entire community, as well as its visitors.

Now, Greenspan has shifted tactics, and has proposed a funding mechanism using an emissions-based model. The model would take into account energy used by residential and commercial consumers in Telluride and Mountain Village, who would be assessed a kilowatt fee to be collected by San Miguel Power Association. 

As outlined, the Greenhouse Gas Carbon Reduction Program calls for a commercial kWh fee of .01248 per kWh, and a residential fee of .016 per kWh. For a modestly sized household consuming an average of 579 kWh on a monthly basis,  this would add up to a fee of $9.65 per month, while a 11,000 sf household consuming 3,897 kWh/mo. would pay $64.95. 

Not only would such a program fund the SMARTS Park (or any other facility like it, Greenspan was careful to emphasize) well into the future; it would also have the added benefit of raising the consciousness of local residents about the amount of power they consume, hopefully incentivizing them to become more efficient over time. 

Greenspan proposes forming a three-to-five person subcommittee, including representatives from both municipalities, SMPA, and potentially two more non-voting members, to oversee the funds that would be brought in by the new fee, and called on council to give its blessing to the concept so that discussions could move forward.

This, council seemed largely willing to do. “If we don’t move forward on this, in 10 years we will wish we had,” said Councilor Bob Saunders. “We have to start here. We can only do it for ourselves and hope others follow suit.” 

For Greenspan, running the recycling facility is a matter of principle. He’s already sunk $3 million into it the park, the only facility of its kind in the West not currently subsidized. The State of Colorado recently designated SMARTS Park as the southwest regional center for resource recovery, so that SMARTS Park is now the go-to place for recycling in the region. It currently handles recyclables from Telluride, Mountain Village, Ridgway and Montrose, and more municipalities may come onboard in the near future.

Council seemed receptive to the idea of entering talks with SMPA, despite some councilors’ concerns about a potential spike in carbon emissions as SMARTS Park traffic increases. 

Greenspan pointed out that the collective carbon footprint of the region would actually shrink, if more municipalities opted to transport their recyclables to Illium Valley rather than the Front Range, Santa Fe and even California as is currently the case. 

 

WATER RATE STUDY UNDERWAY

Telluride residents may see modest rate hikes in the near future, as the Telluride Town Council endeavors to come up with a new financial plan to cover the growing cost of the town’s municipal water and wastewater utilities. 

Tasked this summer with conducting a comprehensive water utility rate study, headed up by Town Project Manager Karen Guglielmone and consultant David Nauman, council held two work sessions on the topic in recent weeks. The fundamental problem for the utilities is that revenues are not sufficient to fund operating and capital requirements. Meanwhile, both utilities have significant capital needs in the near future: the wastewater utility has old pipes requiring replacement, and the water utility must fund completion of the Pandora Water Treatment Plant and Bridal Veil Water System, to which it is tied.

In discussions so far about how to handle the problem, council appeared to be leaning toward implementing small, regular rate increases to boost the bottom line and maintaining 90 days’ worth of operating reserves in each utility fund, while authorizing contributions from town coffers toward capital improvements. Tap fee increases are also on the table for consideration.

The ultimate goal, by the end of the summer, is to create a planning tool that is reliable and useful into the future, regarding the finances of the two utilities.

Telluride residents have seen two water utility fee increases over the last decade, but none since the recession began in 2008. Now, with the recession seemingly over, the town must dig itself out of a hole to make up for lost time. 

“By having just two increases over the last 10 years, we are in a bind,” Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said earlier this month.

“We have not been doing what we should have done all along, which is increasing rates on an annual basis,” Mayor Stu Fraser said, at the same meeting. 

A problem faced by Telluride, as a resort community, is that it needs to build infrastructure for the 22,000 people who might be in town at any one time during peak season, even though the permanent population is one-tenth that size. Council voiced a general desire to “minimize the impact to homeowners and the business community” as the rate hikes go into effect.

The general proposal for the wastewater utility is to implement a 6 percent across-the-board increase in fees for 2014, then down the road look at allocating costs across different classes of users, who would be assessed different billing rates, to achieve the same amount of revenue while lessening the impact on certain users. 

The municipal water fund is in more dire straits, however, largely due to looming expenses regarding the Pandora project.

Guglielmone outlined three different options for remedying the problem. Of those, council is leaning toward a revenue enhancement plan, implementing higher initial rate increases to address capital needs, which would then be ratcheted down over time, without taking on more debt or raiding the town’s Capital Improvement Fund to cover operating expenses.

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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