An aerial view of the Town of Rico. The Board of Trustees recently approved ballot language for a measure that would secure funding for a wastewater treatment plant and centralized sewage system via a mill levy. (Planet file photo)

A wastewater treatment plant and centralized sewage system in Rico? It’s closer to becoming a reality, as the Board of Trustees approved ballot language Aug. 21 that will put the question to the voters Nov. 5. The town would secure the funding for the $4 million project via a low-interest $3 million loan from the Colorado State Revolving Fund, which would require the town to pay $174,181 annually, as well as a $1 million grant from the state’s Department of Local Affairs. A new property tax would cover the annual loan payment, according to town manager Kari Distefano. If approved, the mill levy would generate $43.94 per month for a home valued at $250,000. That rate would change depending on Dolores County Assessor’s property valuations.

“We’re not locked into a mill levy; we’re locked into paying back the loan per year,” Distefano explained.

The plan is to build a wastewater treatment plant, and then implement a sewer system in the town’s commercial core along Main Street. If all goes well, other areas of town will be connected to the system in phases, though there is no timeline for the potential project.  

“Ultimately, the goal is to have the whole town on central sewage. Right now, we’re trying to get it established to hopefully attract more economic activity in our commercial core. That in turn will help stabilize our town a little bit,” Distefano said.

She added the next area of focus would be the northeast corner of town, since there are older homes there that may have septic system issues.

Rico, a Dolores County mountain hamlet less than 30 miles from Telluride, is a growing bedroom community. Resident Emily Nolan has been organizing get-togethers in an effort to register eligible voters, especially newcomers. The meetings have typically taken place at the Enterprise Bar & Grill — a regular community gathering spot.

“It’s so important (to register to vote). You live here. Your voice needs to be heard. This is going to impact you, especially if you’re a homeowner and pay taxes,” she said.

She added anyone that would like help registering can email her at emily.nolan307@gmail.com. The next voter registration drive at the Enterprise will be Sept. 21 from 4-6 p.m. and Sept 22-23 from noon to 2 p.m.

At the Aug. 21 trustees meeting, many voiced their support or concerns, according to several parties in attendance. Nolan said the ballot question seems to have equal support and opposition.  

“It’s interesting. It’s hard to tell. After the town meeting that we had, I felt that there were going to be more people in favor of it, but the people that are against it are pretty vocal. Then there’s a group of people that don’t volunteer where they stand,” she explained.

Mayor Zach McManus likes seeing the community involved in the process.  

“We take public comments heavily into consideration,” he said. “ … We want all that feedback to be sure that we’re making the best decisions for the community.

“We’re always trying to listen to what’s going on around town and figure out where the hang-ups are for making this community successful. I think that’s one that’s been identified as a problem for a long time. This isn’t a new idea. … It’s a different approach to the same problem.”

Attempts to implement central sewage in the past have failed because the plan was to hook up the whole town at once, McManus said.

“The costs that we’re asking for is substantial no matter how we do it, but I think they’re reasonable if we do this in phases,” he added. “We’re really trying to bring something to the voters that make sense to them and that’s sustainable for everyone.”