Brighton council member accuses city of price gouging water rates

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BRIGHTON, Colo. -- We all drink it and we all need it, but water is the source of more than just sustenance in Brighton; it's at the center of a scandal.

Many city residents complained about a big spike in their water bills, so recently-elected City Council member Matt Johnston began to look into it.

Johnston claims he found evidence of price gouging and hidden money.

"My average bills, personally, were over $200 every month, every time," said Johnston.

Johnston says water rates in Brighton have skyrocketed 49 percent over the past 5 years.

Lifelong resident Ralph Lucero gave up on growing a garden, baffled by his rising bills.

"I'm heart broken. I'm disappointed, but the only thing I could do about it was raise my voice," said Lucero.

Lucero's voice was heard.

Johnston is now vowing to get to the bottom of what happened and determine who was responsible.

Johnston has learned the city only spent about a quarter of the money it collected for specific water and drainage projects over the past four years, despite asking City Council several times to raise rates to fund various projects.

More than $70 million sits in an account untouched.

"They weren't doing the projects. That's the crux of this. They say they need it for this project not completed. Some of it might get done. Some of it might not," said Johnston.

Johnston now knows where the money is, but he says he still has more questions than answers.

"This is the tip of the iceberg. I want to find out why this was done, the exact why and the who. The number-one question is going to be: What do we do with the money? Do we get any of the money back? And I respect that question," said Johnston.

The city of Brighton declined requests for an on-camera interview, but did send FOX31 a statement saying, "We appreciate the community’s patience as we allow the new city auditors and utility rate consultant to complete their work and report their findings back to us. Until such time, it would inappropriate for us to comment or speculate."

City Council will consider awarding contracts for a new utility rate consultant and new city auditors at Tuesday night's meeting. A proposal for a smart reader system will also be considered.

Utilities Director Curt Bauers was also fired in September for reasons that have not been disclosed. He was hired by the city of Brighton in 2014.

Johnston is holding a public meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m. to field questions and concerns from Brighton residents about water rates. The meeting will be held at city hall prior to the City Council meeting which begins at 7 p.m.

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