Ignacio's high monthly sewer rates have been a sore point with residents and town officials for several years.
Interim Town Manager Mark Garcia told the town board on Aug. 17 that his own rate analysis backs that up.
The rates are set by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe plus any additional town charges for billing and for system maintenance in town. The tribe owns and operates the sewage treatment plant.
"According to the utility analysis, we're paying significantly higher rates than we should, 36 percent up to 50 percent more than we should," Garcia said.
"There's a significant injustice. Our flows are less than 20 percent (of what goes into the sewage plant), but we're paying up to 45 percent."
He cited a clause in the town's contract with the tribe that all allocation of equivalent residential tap charges, monthly fees, and ready to serve fees shall be established equitably, whether or not the customer is a tribal member, and that no customers will subsidize others.
"We need to start with a letter to the tribe asking for an explanation and justification of their rates," he said.
The town is waiting on a date from the tribal chairman for the next joint meeting with the tribal council, he said in his staff report.
Before the regular meeting, trustees met with County Commissioners Julie Westendorff and Gwen Lachelt, and Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina.
Town representatives used the occasion to air their dissatisfaction with state legislation passed in 2014 that's being interpreted to give an exemption from town sales tax to Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute enrolled members.
The 2014 legislation was supposed to clarify a federal law passed during the 1980s.
"The taxation issue has been a big thing for us," Trustee Alison deKay said. "At this time, we are very unsupported by every entity we approached about it."
The fiscal impact analysis of the 2014 bill said there would be no fiscal impact, apparently to the state.
"We feel we are impacted," deKay said.
"We've communicated with legislators about making some tweaks."
Tribal membership is determined by blood quantum, or the percentage of tribal member ancestry. DeKay and Garcia cited worries that the impact of the sales tax exemption could be a lot more if the tribe ever lowers the blood quantum requirement (currently one quarter) so that more people qualify as enrolled members.
State Sen. Ellen Roberts was a sponsor of the 2014 bill. She met with Ignacio trustees earlier this summer.
Garcia said Roberts "acknowledged in writing that she didn't think the bill would extend to sales tax (on everyday items), that it was big-ticket items" like vehicles.
"She admitted to this board that she didn't envision that it was sales tax. The premise surrounding this bill was that there are no fiscal impacts. The tribe's position is that federal law created this exemption, and the 2014 law was clarifying it."
Garcia said Roberts didn't think there was political will in the legislature to revisit the 2014 bill.
The Times reported in detail on the exemption issue on June 24.