Center fire victims receive community help

Photo by Patrick Shea Center Town Board Trustees gathered in Center Town Hall on Jan. 10 to discuss fire victims, public utilities, and communications with residents who don't fully pay their utility bills.

CENTER — During the Center Town Board meeting on Jan. 10, victims of a recent fire in town heard trustees approve a $500 check for the family, and Center Police Chief Aaron Fresquez said they have seven teams signed up for the charity basketball tournament on Jan. 15. These fundraisers and more will help a family that lost everything.

Trustees also granted them a variance to live in a camper or fifth wheel on the property during reconstruction. During the public comment period, Center Schools educator Susan Banning spoke about recurring fires in town. She said she sees the stress on displaced students and encouraged the board to pursue more safety education measures for prevention.

Public Works Director Dave Mehaffie stepped up to the microphone twice during the meeting. He said code enforcement activity is up. They sent 45 notices recently, as well as 18 letters for major violations.

When he returned for a longer public works discussion, Mehaffie touched on a number of unique issues for municipalities that provide utilities. Like Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and other towns that do not rely on energy suppliers, Center faces the same price increases that are already hitting consumers.

According to Mehaffie, transportation costs will rise from $158,000 in 2023 to $375,000 in 2024, $611,000 2025, $918,000 in 2026, and $1.3 million in 2027. Compared to rates Center residents pay, Xcel Energy charges nine cents more for electricity and 12 cents more for gas.

Mehaffie also discussed the water system. Annual usage by the town has decreased by a combined total of 97 million gallons since 2018. With an eye to preserve Center’s unused water, the 2023 augmentation plan is currently with the town’s attorneys before submission to the conservancy district.

Town Manager Brian Lujan explained the background on one agenda item — 24-hour disconnect notices. Lujan noted that the utility bill payment deadline is the 20th of the month. If payment is not received within 10 business days, service will be shut off on the 4th of the following month. This information has already been included on Center utility bills. Lujan said staff devotes an inordinate amount of time posting the 24-hour-notices and following up with residents.

The board approved a motion to continue communicating potential shutoffs for unpaid balances on the resident’s bill, but instead of delivering notices, they will be printed on yellow pages and included in the envelope.

Lujan reminded meeting attendees that the deadline to send a letter of interest in joining the Center Planning Commission has been extended to Feb. 10. Lujan said he wants to, “make sure it’s a direct representation of all Center residents.”