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SAWS discusses increase in water rates

SHERIDAN — Sheridan Area Water Supply customers will see a 2.25 percent increase in water rates beginning with their September water bill for water used in August.

The rate increase for approximately 1,800 SAWS customers was approved by the SAWS joint powers board at its meeting Wednesday.

Minimum monthly base rates will increase $1 to $2.52, depending on the meter size. The usage rate for all customers and all meter sizes will increase from $1.71 to $1.75 per 1,000 gallons for usage of 0-8,000 gallons, and from $3.59 to $3.67 per 1,000 gallons for usage of 8,001 gallons and greater.

SAWS Project Manager Dan Coughlin said each year the SAWS board and the city do a financial plan and have increased rates 2 percent each year for the last three years. This year, the increase was slightly more to enable the SAWS board to hit its target for reserve accounts by 2018 and to prepare for incurring additional debt as the system ages and more costly updates and repairs are needed.

“Our philosophy is it’s easier on our rate paying public to have small increases rather than one large increase,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin added that he has seen other cities and water systems keep rates steady only to suddenly need a major fix and have to nearly double rates in one year to bring in the needed revenue.

“That’s not good long-range planning,” Coughlin said.

The SAWS board also approved its fiscal year 2015 budget, which will end June 30, 2015.

Coughlin said the overall budget for SAWS is approximately $111,000 higher than last year’s budget. He referenced a memo from City Utilities Manager Dan Roberts that explained the primary reasons for the increase, many of which are expected to be one-time increases or a “bump in the road,” as Coughlin phrased it.

The cost share for SAWS of capital expenses is $90,000 for the year. This includes portions of equipment purchases and replacements, as well as an upgrade to billing software for the city and SAWS water systems. An increase in operating expenses for higher utility costs, one-time maintenance costs at the Big Goose Water Treatment Plant and an increase of $24,500 for adjustments in employee salaries also contributed to the bigger budget.

In his memo, Roberts said he expected the only increase to remain in future budgets was that of employee salaries and benefits.

Coughlin noted that the loans in progress and construction in progress portions of the budget both reflect a large increase in the budget due to needed upgrades at booster stations. These include the addition of portable, alternative power generators, electrical upgrades and the addition of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition computer monitoring systems at each booster station, which will likely decrease costs in the long-term due to less driving time and manpower needed to check on the stations.

In its progress reports, the board discussed progress on an effort at staff level to amend the ownership agreement between the city of Sheridan and SAWS to address the transfer of the SAWS system and customers to the city of Sheridan following the 2012 annexation of the Sheridan Commercial Park.

Coughlin said in 2008 or 2009, an effort was made to provide a process for transfering ownership when land containing SAWS customers is annexed by the city, but that nothing was ever finalized. The current ownership agreement just says the two sides will negotiate the transfer, Coughlin said; however, to date, the SAWS system and customers in the Sheridan Commercial Park annexation area remain in SAWS ownership.

“It’s a matter of who owns the system and pays for it, and who has the customer base to pay for it,” Coughlin said.

“It’s important to do it in a manner where nobody’s a loser in the process, including the customer,” Coughlin added.

He noted that transfering customers to city ownership needs to be done carefully so that customers who remain on the SAWS system don’t incur additional costs to make up for the loss of payment from customers who switch to city ownership.

The proposed amendment is now in the hands of the city for review and will continue to be negotiated, Coughlin said.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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