The Riverton City Council voted this week to raise local water rates by a higher percentage than recommended by municipal staff.
City finance director Mia Harris had proposed a 3 percent increase to water utility rates during this week’s council meeting, explaining that “a rate increase is necessary to maintain our infrastructure.”
Operational revenue projections in the municipal water fund budget “only exceeded our expenditures by slightly over $25,000” for the 2023 fiscal year, Harris said – and that’s despite the fact that the council approved a $319,000 transfer from reserves to offset capital expenses associated with the water fund.
Staff also cut $2.2 million in capital projects from the water fund this year, Harris added, noting that the five-year capital plan calls for $7.8 million in expenses for infrastructure, repairs, replacements, and equipment purchases.
“We are behind the curve,” Harris said.
A 3 percent increase in water rates would generate about $80,000 in additional revenue for the water fund, according to Harris.
But Councilmember Mike Bailey said “I don’t think (that’s) enough.”
He argued that it would be “fiscally irresponsible” not to raise water rates “a little more, so we have enough money to fix the water system that we have that is severely behind in our ability to keep up with the needs of the system.”
“Maybe we should look at going 4-5 percent instead of three,” he said.
Councilmember Kyle Larson agreed, outlining some of the expenses associated with maintaining a municipal water system.
“Our responsibility is to provide safety and water and sewer and pick up garbage,” Larson said. “We’ve got to replace the equipment. It keeps on wearing out, (and) we need the money to provide the service that we are required to provide. … So, I’m with you.”
2 percent more
Councilmember Lindsey Cox made the motion to raise municipal water rates by 5 percent instead of 3 percent, recalling that a consultant had recommended a 6 percent increase last year “and we only went to 3.”
Councilmember Kristy Salisbury spoke against Cox’s proposal.
“I think the recommendation from Mia was sufficient,” Salisbury said. “We’re already raising it. There are already people hurting out in the community. (The staff) suggestion I think is probably more appropriate.”
Mayor Tim Hancock acknowledged the consultant’s recommendation to adjust water rates to better support the municipal water system, but he also shared Salisbury’s concern.
“The economy being what it is … 5 percent rather than 3 (is) a hard ask,” Hancock said.
Bailey countered that it would be even more difficult for residents to contend with “the water … not running.”
“We have a huge need in this city to replace water lines and sewer lines,” he said. “(For) many years … we didn’t raise the rate at all, and so we’re behind the curve, and we’ve got to find a way to catch up.”
He calculated that a 5 percent increase in water rates would generate about $133,000 in additional revenue for the city water fund – about $50,000 more than the 3 percent increase would bring in.
“(That) is just a drop in the bucket of what the need is,” Bailey said, referencing the consultant’s report that showed the amount of money the city loses due to leaking water lines every year. “Us getting lines repaired will save more than we’re spending extra, in my opinion. … It’s vital.”
Salisbury and Councilmember Karla Borders voted against the change to a 5 percent water rate increase, but the amendment passed with the rest of the council’s support.
Salisbury also voted against the amended water rate resolution.
The council approved two other utility rate resolutions this week, increasing wastewater rates by 3 percent and sanitation rates by 2 percent, with no changes to the staff recommendation.
Harris said the wastewater rate increase will generate an additional $71,370 for the wastewater fund, and the sanitation rate increase will generate an additional $70,050 for the sanitation fund.
She indicated that all of the changes would take effect “with the next billing cycle.”
For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.