"It sounds to me like they're making bad choices and wanting us to pay for it," rate-payer Matthew Gordon said of 9Wants To Know's findings.
A comparison of his water bill shows Gordon pays five-times more for water than what a customer pays in the City of Denver. Since 2008, district managers increased water rates by 24 percent and have tripled the district's take from property taxes by raising the mill levy this year.
Managers claim increasing rates is necessary because they need to pay for the new $155-million Rueter-Hess Reservoir. Through an open records request, 9Wants To Know examined a year's worth of credit card expenses among managers a the Parker Water and Sanitation District.
Among some of the findings:
- $892 spent on new rims for the District Manager's Yukon Denali
- Among dozens of car washes, sometimes several in a week, $560 was spent on a detail job for the District Manager's Yukon Denali
- $6,000 spent on 127 lunch meetings attended by water managers, consultants and lawmakers at places like the Brown Palace Hotel.
- $20,000 spent on trips to Las Vegas, Florida and Washington D.C. for conferences
- $1,925 paid to marketing consultants to write board member bios
"They're supposed to be learning something," Gordon said of spending money on conferences. "They haven't learned very much. The amount of money they're wasting on it, it's not coming back to us."
"I find it to be disturbing," Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch said of the SUV upgrades. "It makes you wonder how well they're being stewards of the public's money."
"I think all of these costs drive rates," Parker Water and Sanitation District board member Darcy Beard said of the findings. "It's irresponsible. It's not fiscally responsible."
Beard, who was elected to the board in 2010, says she has been trying to cap spending powers of the district manager.
"If you're not managing the little things, if you can't be trusted with credit card privileges, how can you be trusted with a $155-million reservoir project?" Beard asked.
During a sit-down interview with 9Wants To Know, District Manager Frank Jaeger defended the expenses as a cost of doing business.
"We are a multi-million-dollar corporation," Jaeger said. "My budget this year is in the neighborhood of $50 million."
Jaeger says he needed new rims because he was having a hard time driving in the snow. He also said the conference trips are necessary to keep employees abreast of the water industry. Regarding the car washes and detail job, Jaeger says Parker Water needs to keep a clean image.
"I don't want the public perception out there that my people pull up with ratty looking equipment to provide safe drinking water," Jaeger said. "And I spend the money."
Of the lunch meetings, Jaeger says he has been directed by the board to attend lunch meetings with people who business with the district and legislators. During one such meeting with legislators at the Brown Palace Hotel, Jaeger said the district was recognized for its years of service.
"We ended up at the Capitol, and the Senate and the House passed a proclamation congratulating on us. Fifty years this district has been in business," Jaeger said.
9Wants To Know asked: Does the spending that we talked about reflect a district that has to raise rates?
"I think it does," Jaeger responded. "If you look at my staff, I've got 64 employees out there that went without any kind of increases for two years. I've gone three-and-a-half years without an increase."
Jaeger makes a yearly-salary of $175,000 and has been with the district since the early 1980s.
On Tuesday, May 8, the Parker Water District is holding an election for positions on the board.
Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him
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