GILLETTE, Wyo. – City utility customers are likely to pay more on their monthly bills starting in May with deliberations underway by the Gillette City Council over a utility rate hike spanning three years.
During their meeting March 14, the council advanced an ordinance to increase the monthly residential utility rates. If it passes two additional readings, the ordinance will increase utility rates by 6.9% this May, by 6.2% in May 2024, and then by 4.2% in May 2025.
By the end of all three increases, a typical residential customer living in a three-bedroom house with two bathrooms could see their monthly utility bills go up by approximately $38, according to the City of Gillette.
Increasing utility rates will generate the funds needed to cover rising labor, equipment, material, and operations costs, the city says, adding that it plans to transfer $4.8 million from its General Fund to the Sewer Fund to pay down outstanding debt.
According to City Utilities Director Mike Cole, the costs of doing business are going up and it’s getting more expensive to do things like power the pumps to send water to residential customers and treat water in accordance with the new Lead and Copper Rule.
Costs have risen to the point that a $20 million loan intended to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant is now likely only cover only half of the total project cost, according to City Administrator Hyun Kim, who said the city is preparing to pass a deficit budget.
“We do not come to you with this idea that we want to do this because need revenues, it’s so we can cover costs,” Kim said.
In response to an inquiry raised by Councilmember Jim West about potentially pushing the rate increases off another year to see if costs go down, thereby reducing the impact on fixed-income residents, Kim said he’s never seen such an approach work out in his experience.
Mayor Shay Lundvall said utility rate increases are one of the hardest things that councilmembers will have to consider, not only for the general public but for themselves as well since rate increases affect everybody residing within city limits.
He thanked city staff for their hard work as they undertook what he referred to as an arduous process involving many behind-the-scenes conversations, not all of which involved the council.
“But we are the ones making the decision. It’s not easy for you guys; it’s not easy for us. The impacts are real,” Lundvall said. “I, for one, take it very seriously. I think we all do. It’s just the reality of our operations and taking care of it so future councils don’t have to do what we’re having to do, in a way.”
The motion passed with only West voting against it. The city will vote on the ordinance two more times, once during their meeting on April 4 and again on April 18.