Volume 104, Number 9 - March 1, 2007
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The cost of water and waste
Pinedale’s water and sewage systems are pricey propositions. According to Sublette County Socioeconomic Analyst Jeffrey Jacquet, who presented to the Pinedale Town Council at its Feb. 26 meeting, the revenue generated from water and sewer rates does not come close to matching the cost of operating the two systems.
Jacquet told the council he had been approached by Mayor Steve Smith and asked to compare the costs of operating the town’s water and sewer systems with the revenue generated from rates. In his analysis, Jacquet used only the town’s present number of home and business connections; he did not factor in proposed developments or future population projections.
Jacquet said that Wyoming law requires municipalities to consider water and sewer separate systems. The state also calls for both systems to remain fiscally balanced. Presently the revenue generated from water rates falls short of the system’s operating cost by $683,275 each year. To close this gap, Jacquet told the council water rates would have to go up by 60.04 percent, an increase that would be universally applied to all users, regardless of the type of structure they own. Users who live in a residential unit within the town pay a fixed quarterly water rate fee of $59.05. If the rate went up 60 percent, residential users would pay a fee of $94.75.
Town Clerk Patty Racich said the price of operating the water system includes paying Pinedale’s public works maintenance employees’ salaries, the cost of maintaining water lines and chlorinating the water, among other expenses. Pinedale utilizes gravity flow water lines, which eliminates the need to pump water. The town also does not filter its water, which comes from Fremont Lake, but Racich said it must perform water quality testing, which increases the system’s operating costs.
The discrepancy between the cost of operating the town’s sewage system and the revenues generated from fees is much greater than the difference between water costs and revenues. Pinedale’s sewage costs exceed its revenues by $809,290 each year. In order to match the expense, the town would have to raise its sewage rates by 310 percent, Jacquet said.
“Water is the good news,” Jacquet said. In-town residential users currently pay a quarterly sewage rate of $33.40. If the rate was increased by 310 percent, residential users would pay $137.09 per quarter. Racich explained it costs $809,000 to manage the town’s new sewer lagoon. Maintaining the sewage system is more “labor intensive” than caring for the water system, Racich stated.
Municipalities that receive state grants are obligated by Wyoming statue to cover their water and sewer operating costs. In recent years, Pinedale has received state grants to fund the difference between water and sewer revenue and costs.
Pinedale changed its sewer rate in 2005, in anticipation of the construction of the new lagoon. It most recently changed its water rates in 2002, according to Racich. At Monday’s council meeting, Jacquet suggested connection fee revenue from new developments could be used to offset the cost-revenue discrepancies. But town attorney Ed Wood advised the council that using connection fees to cover water and sewer operating costs violated town ordinance.
Jacquet later stressed that his proposal to the council did not mean the town would raise the rates.
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