By Ernie Over, WyoToday

A 2017 independent consultant study on the city of Riverton’s utility rates recommended an annual 3% hike to provide enough funding to maintain the city’s utility infrastructure for water delivery and waste water treatment. City council member Mike Bailey, however, said 3% was not enough as the city is behind on needed funding. 

Riverton Finance Director Mia Harris said $2.2 million in capital improvement items were taken out of the water fund budget this past year and $1.8 million was cut from the wastewater budget because the city did not have the funds to do the work. Bailey said it would be “fiscally irresponsible to not fix the water system as we’re severely behind in our ability to keep up with maintenance needs.”

Instead, council member Bailey recommended a hike of 5%. “We have to at least match the grants we are applying for to fix the problems,” he said. Council member Kyle Larson noted the city’s infrastructure, in places, is 50 to 75 years old. “Our responsibility is to provide safety, water and sewer and pick up trash,” he said. “We need the money to provide the services we are required to provide.”

Council member Kristy Salisbury disagreed. “People are already hurting in the community. I think we should keep the rate increase to 3%.”

Instead of raising revenues some $80,000 with a 3% hike, the city would receive about $130,000 with the 5% increase. 

“We have a huge need in the community to replace water lines. We’re behind the curve and we have to find a way to catch up,” Bailey said. “This is just a drop in the bucket of what the need is. It is vital. We need to get the [water] lines repaired.”

As an example, Bailey noted the recent water line replacement in the neighborhood of the Aspen Early Learning Center. “There were holes in that pipe you could put your fist through,” he said. “We were losing 30 percent of our water in leakage.”

Mayor Tim Hancock said the numbers concerned him. “I don’t want to pay more for water just like everyone else in town,” he said. “With more inflation and cost increases, this would be a hard ask.” When the question was called, however, Hancock voted with the majority to raise the rate to 5%. Councilors Lindsey Cox and Salisbury voted no. 

After the vote, Harris provided WyotodayMedia with a new chart that indicated how much users would pay with a 5% increase.