Water and wastewater rates for Laramie residents are scheduled to increase in January by about 3 percent.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Laramie City Council approved the final reading of ordinances increasing water and wastewater rates in 2017 and 2018 as part of an effort to provide funds for water and wastewater infrastructure updates, capital and equipment, customer-improved conservation measures and inflationary costs.
“For the normal household, that’s going to be about $1.03 per month (increase in water rates),” Laramie Director of Administrative Services Malea Brown said.
The water rate increase was approved with a 5-1 vote. Councilor Bryan Shuster voted against the ordinance, and councilors Andi Summerville, Joe Vitale and Vicki Henry were absent.
The increases were suggested in a 10-year financial plan compiled by Red Oak Consulting in 2008.
“I was one of the few councilors that were here during the Red Oak study,” Shuster said. “I went down their rate structure and compounded it, because that’s how it works. It compounds.
“I figured it out, and it was going to be a 348 percent increase over that length of time, which was, I think, 16 years.”
During the study, Shuster said he would support the increase if the city reduced the water rates to just what the city needed for inflationary costs after installing the infrastructure updates. However, he said he was told that would not happen.
“I can’t support this,” he said. “People are now paying for one month what they used to pay for three months before this study.”
Brown said some of the projects paid for by the increases were subsidized from other accounts, and while the initial increases were large, the current increases reflected the need to keep up with the inflationary costs.
Although the 10-year financial plan suggested water rate increases of about 30 percent each year, Brown said the city did not follow the suggestion completely and scaled back the increases after the first two years.
“When we adopted the Red Oak study, it was pretty much unanimous on the council that we needed to achieve some sort of sustainable water system,” Councilor Joe Shumway said. “We were so far from a dependable water system at the time that we said we were going to have to make some tough decisions to get this done.”
Because the council’s approach to water rates is only charging enough to pay the project and maintenance bills, Shumway said the rates would go down in the future.
“We’re not going to make a dime off those water rates,” he said. “We’re just going to pay off the bills. It’s just like when you pay off a car, you no longer have a car payment. Those rates will go down.”
An ordinance scheduled to increase wastewater rates in January by about $1.19 each month for the average residential user, based on an average consumption of 4,000 gallons of water each month, was approved with a 6-0 vote and three councilors absent.
During the meeting, the council also authorized a $300,000 grant application with the United
States Environmental Protection Agency for a Brownfield Assessment Grant to support revitalization efforts on Laramie’s west side. A brownfield is a prior industrial or commercial site where future use could be affected by environmental contamination.
“The purpose of the grant program is to inventory possibly polluted sites and what they are polluted with,” Laramie Grants Analyst Sarah Reese said. “The total request is $300,000 for a consultant to visit Laramie over three years.”
The consultant would communicate with community members, visit possibly contaminated sites and create a work plan for reclaiming the properties identified as contaminated, Reese said.
Councilor Klaus Hanson asked Reese if a sum that large would cover any remediation efforts, but she said the grant was primarily “thinking money.”
Currently, the city has identified nine sites possibly contaminated by petroleum products and five sites deemed possibly hazardous.
A grant agreement between the Wyoming Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources and the Laramie Parks and Recreation Department was approved by council for the third phase of development at Scout Park.
Laramie Parks and Recreation Department Director Todd Feezer said the third phase would include an 8-feet-wide path and two playgrounds.
The $125,000 grant was more than double the amount projected by Feezer’s department reducing the city’s share in the $275,000 project to $150,000, he said.