Rifle City Council approves increases to sewer, sanitation rates

Rifle City Council approved single-digit increases last week to 2021 utility rates.

Sanitation services were increased by 7.5% while sewer should see a 5% increase. City leaders, however, opted not to increase water rates for 2021 — the third consecutive year in which the automatic 5% increase has been waived.

“The water fund is doing well at this point,” City Manager Scott Hahn said. “But we have had to adjust the sewer because it’s a bit of a stressed fund.”

According to figures provided by city finance director Michelle Duran, sanitation reserves have shrunk this past year, dropping from $157,055 in 2020 to $134,455 in 2021

Meanwhile, wastewater reserves increased from $4.22 million to $4.67 million, while the water fund also saw an increase of $10.42 million to $11.59 million between 2020 and 2021.

The numbers may look favorable, but still fresh in the minds of most city officials is the $30 million it took to replace Rifle’s former water treatment plants with the new Rifle Regional Water Purification Facility in 2017. As Rifle’s largest capital project to date, it prompted Rifle voters to approve a .75% increase in sales tax.

“I’d like to see a couple million (dollars) more in reserves,” Hahn said Tuesday.

Hahn said last week that part of the reason behind the increase to trash services is in relation to administrative costs. Mountain Waste & Recycling, a private provider contracted by the city, isn’t seeing enough Rifle customers use recycling services.

The lack of customers has led to an uptick in recycling costs, Hahn noted.

“Although we’re doing it, no one really wants the product right now — it can cost more to get rid of it,” Hahn said. “So there’s been an increase in fees on their end. So that comes to us as a bill, which our current revenues aren’t covering very well.”

Meanwhile, sanitation fund reserves are also of concern.

“We also have a need to get our reserve in that fund higher,” he said. “At this point, we’re using more of our reserves than we’re taking in.”

But before the increases to sewer and sanitation were approved, city councilors addressed an upcoming utility rate study, which should eventually provide recommendations on what the city should charge customers for utility services. Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. will see just how much revenue the city needs to fund capital expenditures.

Once the study is released — likely within the next 4 to 6 weeks — results will determine whether the city will adjust utility rates. In other words, the city could possibly announce another rate adjustment after already approving last week’s rate increases.

The sanitation rate, however, is not included in the study.

“I wonder if we shouldn’t measure twice and cut once, instead of raising rates and potentially adjusting again based on the utility study,” Councilor Theresa Hamilton said. The rate increase would pass 5 to 1, with Hamilton voting no.

City attorney Jim Neu said, however, the city would lose out on revenue if they opted to wait until the release of the rate study before approving utility rate adjustments.

With the approval, the residential refuse collection rate increased to $18.95 a month from $17.60 for a 64-gallon container, among other new charges.

In addition, prior to last week the original sewer rate was $57.16. With the 5% increase, the monthly rate is now roughly $60.

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