Riverton is raising utility rates again – and not for the last time.
The city council approved a 3 percent rate hike for water and wastewater services Tuesday evening, with a 2 percent increase for sanitation services.
The change to the water rate alone would amount to an extra $2.59 charge per month for local families, finance director Mia Harris said.
The amount may sound small, but many of those local families are currently struggling to make ends meet, resident Ray Barta argued Tuesday when he approached the council to oppose the rate hike.
“Everybody in this community is struggling financially,” Barta said, noting that local gas prices have risen above $4 per gallon. “Everything just continues to increase. …
“Raising these rates, even if we’re at a deficit, I don’t think that’s the clear way out of this.”
He was referring to the report Harris had just presented showing that expenses currently exceed revenues by about $320,000 in the sanitation fund, $114,000 in the water fund, and $28,000 in the wastewater fund.
She said those deficits remain despite recent transfers from savings amounting to about $770,000 for the water fund, almost $340,000 for the wastewater fund and almost $460,000 for the sanitation fund.
The numbers demonstrate that the city has been “grossly undercharging” users for those services, Harris said.
Mayor Richard Gard agreed.
“You can’t just dump money in the top of a fund that is losing money,” he said. “What we’re charging for that product should pay for the usage.”
Gard did acknowledge the economic difficulties local residents are currently facing, especially at the gas pump. But he also emphasized the importance of responsibly maintaining local water, wastewater and sanitation services, reminding the public that a 2018 study determined Riverton should actually increase its utility rates by more than 3 percent over time to support ongoing and future costs.
“This 3 percent is not the savior,” Gard said. “It won’t take care of (our) overage. So we’ll be back for more money out of your pocket and my pocket. …
“This isn’t our last increase.”
Local utility rates were most recently adjusted in March 2021, according to city staff. But before that, Councilman Mike Bailey said, there were “many years” when the city did not raise rates, “even though the costs were climbing.”
“We can’t keep spending (more) each year than we’re bringing in,” Bailey said. “There’s going to be a point where those funds are not solvent, and we won’t be able to make a repair on the sewer treatment plant. (But) that’s part of what we have to do.
“I want the water to run. We all want our toilets to flush. So if we’re going to do that, we have to make sure we’re paying.”
Harris said the rate hike that was approved this week will take effect with the March billing cycle.