(Lander, Wyo.) – The Lander City Council, for more than two hours on Tuesday night, continued the debate over how best to raise water and sewer revenue to cover costs and loans for infrastructure improvements. Despite the long discussions, a clear path for moving forward has still not been determined.
By general consensus, recommendations from a consultant to lower the usage allowance from 12,000 gallons to 2,000, will be used for the purpose of a public hearing on the changes on Nov. 12. What will actually be put into place could still change, but must be in place for the purpose of loan applications by Jan. 1, 2014.
Much of the debate seemed to focus around differing philosophies: hit large water users with the majority of the price increase or spread the increase out in a more uniform fashion across all utility customers.
Carl Brown, the Missouri consultant hired to come up with recommendations for rate structure changes, has emphasized both in previous meetings and last night that users who only use a small amount of water have, in essence, been subsidizing the larger water users. This is because the city has a base usage allowance of 12,000 gallons before unit costs come into play. Brown’s recommendations have been to go with a usage allowance of 2,000 gallons in order to get customers to pay for what they use.
Per the city’s request, Brown presented last night a model based on an 8,000 gallon allowance. The model would give more than 800 customers a 21 percent reduction in their water costs, but some of the larger users would see increases of more than 160 percent.
On the sewer end of everything, every customer would see an increase of at least 79 percent. However, some of the larger users could see increases above 4,000 percent. Councilor Cade Maestas said increasing these users bills from $10.79 a month to $463.21 a month, coupled with the water increases, could force these businesses to close or to leave Lander. While these two businesses were not identified, their sewer rates might not be that high if not all of the water is returning to the sewer. Businesses who do a lot of irrigating are encouraged to meter that water usage separately so they aren’t charged sewer costs on that water.
A rotating crowd of about 10 members of the public attended the discussion and chimed in. Of the business owners who attended and spoke up, they all agreed they should be paying their share of the usage. They also agreed the rates had been too low for too long. Nikki Peterson, who works with several businesses, said she wished there could be a way that the increases could be phased in so the businesses wouldn’t take such a huge hit right off the bat.
Council President Nancy Pieropan said she felt utility customers should pay for what they use, and the smaller customers shouldn’t have to pay more because the large users aren’t paying enough.
“Flipping a switch and saying, ‘You businesses can eat it,’ is not the way to go,” Maestas said.
One business owner said the council should adjust the rates as it needs to, and the businesses will have to “suck it up and pass it on to our customers.”
At one point Maestas suggested only doing the sewer increases now in order to pay for the state loans, which the Department of Environmental Quality is pushing for, but then save the water changes for another year to slow the transition.
Treasurer Charri Lara said that some large users will actually see a decrease in their water rates, so it would hurt them more if both were not done at the same time.