Balancing wastewater rates

Laramie’s wastewater rates could soon be based on data collected locally, rather than regional statistics, Laramie Public Works Director Earl Smith said.

During the Laramie City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, the council reviewed the first reading of an ordinance that could drastically reduce some users’ wastewater bills.

“The existing rates were based on assumed rates of (biochemical oxygen demand),” Smith said. “Those were quite different than what we assessed.”

Laramie contracted Raftelis Financial Consultants to conduct a 2018 sewer cost of service study based on data collected by city staff. The study revealed the city was charging some customer classes nearly twice the amount needed to recover costs incurred through wastewater treatment.

To adjust the rates, the city council said at a work session Oct. 24 they would be interested in pursuing an option that reduced Laramie’s wastewater customer classes from 11 to two and charged the remaining classes two flat rates.

“We are not changing the base rates (which are determined by meter size),” Smith said. “What is changing is the volumetric rates.”

The two new customer classes are residential and non-residential.

Residential wastewater rates are based on January, February and March water reads from the previous year of usage for the residence, according to city documents. The average of the three months of consumption is currently multiplied by $4.05 per 1,000 gallons.

City Council approved a wastewater rate increase earlier this year, which would have increased residential wastewater rates to $4.21 per 1,000 gallons, but if all three readings of the proposed wastewater rate ordinance are approved, residents could pay $4.41 per 1,000 gallons starting in 2018.

Non-residential wastewater rates are based on the water consumption for the billing period, according to city documents. The figure of the water consumption is multiplied by the sewer rate that is designated by the treatment plant.

Current non-residential wastewater rates range from $3.97-$7.92.

While all of the non-residential customer classes were scheduled to receive a wastewater water rate increase, the proposed ordinance would set non-residential customer classes at flat rate of $4.60, which would be a small increase for some current customer classes and significant decrease for others.

The council unanimously approved the first reading of the proposed wastewater rate change ordinance.

City staff stipend

A resolution for a one-time stipend for city staff was also approved by council.

Using $258,000 of funds budgeted for personnel and saved by way of eliminating positions and implementing a hiring freeze, the resolution could allow Laramie to provide its employees with a bonus this December.

“We have very significant uncertainty what the Legislature will bring in the next biennium for cities, towns and counties,” Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said.

“The last time your city staff received any increase in compensation was in January 2016 with the implementation of our new compensation program to bring our employees to 98 percent of the market.”

The recommendation would use the 1 percent personnel reserve council appropriated in the supplemental budget and draw from “salary savings,” or money saved by eliminating positions and keeping some city positions open, Jordan said.

“When we’re holding open positions, the staff that are here are working doubly hard,” she said. “Using those two sources of funds, we would provide the stipend at $950.”

The one-time stipends will be taxable and Jordan said after taxes the stipends could be around $700. She said the (resolution) also included stipends of $50-$100 for provisional employees.

“This is what I would consider a small gesture to a number of city employees, who have really pulled through during these last difficult months,” Mayor Andi Summerville. “I wish we could do more.”

The council unanimously approved the one-time stipend.

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