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Electrifying the audience

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Colorado Springs Utilities is seeking public input on a big question: Who should foot the bill for installing water, gas and electricity to new homes: ratepayers or developers?

However, if you happened to catch the utility company's advertisements in the daily newspaper for two public workshops held last month you might not know what was being discussed. As one ad read:

"We will be presenting options to align current system extension policies of doing business with the cost of doing business.'

"Does that sound like your idea of a night on the town?" quipped activist Walter Lawson who attended both workshops.

In hindsight, utility spokesman Steve Berry admits the ads could have been stated more pithily. "They sound good to an internal perspective, but I think it could've been clearer," Berry said.

The cost of outfitting a new home with utilities is currently estimated at $40,000 to $67,000. After an electricity rate hike that resulted in community outrage, City Council, which oversees the utility, assigned an eight-member advisory board to explore the question of future infrastructure costs.

While the utility's ad blitz drew few ratepayers to its workshops, local developers were well represented. That's because CSU posted more than 100 letters to a "stake holder list" comprised of businesses and citizens who've expressed interest in utilities issues in the past.

The two-page letter outlined questions for discussion in its series of three workshops. "Who is responsible for what costs of infrastructure -- developer, builder, rate payer?" the letter read.

While the notices were posted to local environmental groups and activists, 75 percent of recipients were realtors, builders and developers.

"We did everything we could to get the word out in advance," said spokesman Berry. "But it's a situation where, if we're talking about a pure growth issue ... the development community and the builders bear a more immediate impact, at least initially."

Local ratepayer Will Washburn, who attended the second workshop, expressed less faith in the publicly owned utility company's intentions.

"I really dislike it when people can't be upfront and use objective terminology to discuss the issues," Washburn said. "In England this is called going in roundabouts. It's evasive and I don't like it."

-- John Dicker

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CSU's last public workshop before it makes recommendations to City Council will be held Thursday, April 22, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Leon Young Service Center, 1521 Hancock Expressway.

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