Council talks water rates, employee raises

Evanston City Councilmen Mikal Welling and David Welling listen as City Treasurer Trudy Lym addressed the council about the 2019-20 fiscal year budget during a city council work session on Tuesday, April 30. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The Evanston City Council work session on Tuesday, April 30, was dedicated to a review and discussion of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20, presented by City Treasurer Trudy Lym.

Evanston Director of Public Works Gordon Robinson had prepared a spreadsheet of rate history for water and sanitation from 2007 up to the current year. Robinson showed proposed rate changes ranging from 5 to 25 percent, and the amount that would add to the basic service bill. A 5-percent increase would amount to $1.68 additional charge, a 10-percent increase would be $3.37, a 15-percent increase would equal $5.06 and a 25-percent increase would add $8.44 to the base rate.  

Councilman Tib Ottley asked, “What if we just raise the rate for large commercial users and leave the residential alone?”

Lym said that had been done before.

Councilman Tim Lynch responded, “I think we need consistency across the board.”

Discussion included mention of the money in reserves and that if the city started using that for necessary water line repair and other future costs, it wouldn’t take long to use it up.  

Mayor Kent Williams said that in 2018, the city spent $120,000 from reserves for a new backhoe and wood chipper. He said the City View water line extension was going to be an added cost this year.

Lym said Robinson will provide a spreadsheet on operation and repair costs for each funded area. 

The water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plants are aging, and council members are concerned they may need updating soon, which will be very costly.  

The discussion ended with the proposal of using the 10-percent base rate increase of $3.37 so it wouldn’t be such a shock to the customers, and then consider raising the rate a little each year or every two years to accommodate needed repairs and new lines.

Lym said that a good thing to remember is that the water loan that had been taken out during Will Davis’ term as mayor was finally completely paid off.

The payroll budget was the next item to be discussed. Mayor Williams said that he thought the raises that were given in November of 2018 had been appropriate and that employees were happy with the increase.  

Lym said that the 0.25-percent increase for Wyoming retirement and insurance will decrease employees’ net income.  

“Perhaps we could give a small 1-percent increase in salaries now to cover those costs, and maybe look at another 1-percent in January,” Lym said. “Or we could budget an increase in and wait until December or January and see where the budget is at. Statistics show that Wyoming has had a cost of living increase of 1 percent, so that gives us a little information on what is happening in the state.”

Ottley said budgeting for pay raises would show that the city, as an employer, isn’t going backward and that the council values city employees. The rest of the council agreed.

Williams said there will be some employees ready for promotion, which will mean an increase in payroll, and other employees are nearing retirement.  

“Since we don’t know what our revenues will be, what if we just budget in a small percentage, 2.5 percent, in to the budget and give half in July and half in January?” Williams asked. 

“I agree,” Lym said. “If you give them a little in July, that will show that we are not going backwards and are working for them. It would amount to about $200,000 at 2.5 percent. Also, I have already budgeted in for several people who might retire.”

The next item for discussion was building maintenance issues and future repairs.

Williams said money needed to be channeled into the budget every year for maintenance because it is hard to plan ahead and know what will be needed for aging buildings.

Lym said that at the end of the year, money left in that fund is moved into a line item and is in reserve. Lym said she would add a new item to this year’s budget to accommodate for future maintenance.

The last item Lym brought before the council was the idea to take depreciation out of the budget for cash purposes, since money spent on capital items is typically spent at the time of purchase. Council members agreed that it makes sense not to include depreciation when preparing the upcoming budget.

“We don’t need to make money,” Williams said, “but I want to see that we have a balanced budget every year and that we can put something back into reserves and that we are in a healthier spot than we were in the last year. That will make me happy and I will know we have done a good job.”

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