The Laramie City Council approved a 3 percent increase in water and wastewater rates during their regular meeting on Tuesday night. The increase is meant to keep Laramie on track with the Red Oak Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program according to the four council members who voted for it.

"If you don’t maintain what you’ve already built, you’re deferring the maintenance," argued Mayor Scott Mullner during the discussion of the water rate. "That’s what we were saddled with, was a number of years of deferred maintenance when we came into this difficulty. Three percent is maybe going to keep up with inflation depending on what it does in the future and I’m going to support it because I think it’s my duty to make certain that water revenues and collections match the costs and continue to match the costs in order for us to be able to provide that service into the future. Otherwise, if we do not do that and if we fail to do that then at some point, just as it has in the past, the water system will break down."

Councilor Erik Molvar expressed his wish to go with the 2.5 percent increase which the Red Oak consultants had said should suffice. City Attorney Dave Clark reminded council that an amendment to change the rate increase to 2.5 percent had already failed twice and could not be reconsidered a second time. Councilor Karl McCraken then moved to change the rate increase to 2.51 percent, an amendment that failed with the only approving votes coming from McCraken and Molvar.

During the discussion Councilor Joe Vitale said he would not be voting for any rate increase because of the people he has had approach about their struggles with paying their current water bill. Councilor McCraken said he also had people addressing him about their bills and thus would not support the rate increase at 3 percent. With Vitale and McCraken voting against the rate increase, and the other four councilors voting for it, the amendment passed.

Discussion continued as the councilors prepared to vote on the wastewater increase with both Vitale and McCraken expressing their belief that the city could operate the water and wastewater systems without the increase. They also wondered if expanding the rehabilitation plan from its current ten year timeline to twelve or thirteen years would make a rate increase at this time unnecessary.

“I think we have to understand that the cost of living rises for everything that we do," Councilor Lee Kempert said. "It’s not just water rates. The price of gasoline, the price of milk, the price of bread, the price of everything has risen and it’s not the city council’s fault that those prices go up as in this case it isn’t the fault of us who vote for these things that the price of materials and labor and so on and so forth increase. So I will vote for this with the understanding that it is a necessary raise to keep the water running in the city of Laramie.”

Councilor Molvar said that increasing the rates was not something he wants to do, but something he feels he has to do, "The unfairness that has been placed on our constituents is that 30 years of neglect and 30 years of previous  residents enjoying artificially low rates that weren’t maintaining the system are now put onto the backs of today’s residents as we struggle to keep up or to catch up to where we should have been if we had been replacing 2 percent of the water and sewer per year. This is a difficult call to make as a decision maker but it’s one we must make and we must stay on the course of rehabilitating that infrastructure."

The vote on the wastewater rate increase went the same as the water rate increase with councilors Dave Paulekas, Mullner, Molvar and Kempert voting for the increase and councilors Vitale and McCraken voting against it. Councilors Klaus Hansen, Roger McKinley and Joe Shumway were absent from the meeting.

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