The Boulder City Council voted to raise utility rates for residents just before midnight Tuesday after nearly four hours of discussion from council members and input from the public.
At the tail end of a five-hour meeting in which 16 community members spoke against rate increases for about three minutes each, Mayor Rod Woodbury adjusted the proposed rate hikes so that instead of being burdened with a one-time 54 percent hike in water rates beginning in October, residents will pay a 17 percent increase for three successive years.
That option includes an annual 2.5 percent increase in water rates after the first three years, but Woodbury mandated that the council review those rates every three years and adjust them as necessary.
Woodbury proposed chopping off the second and third years of the electric rate hikes for commercial users. He said many businesses use more electricity than they do water or waste utilities. Under the original proposal, rate commercial users would shoulder a 16 percent increase in 2017, a 5 percent hike in 2018 and a 5 percent hike in 2020. Now commercial ratepayers will pay only the first rate increase and a 2.5 percent annual increase after that.
Residential electric users will still pay the initially proposed 16 percent increase in 2017 and 5 percent increases in 2018 and 2020.
The proposed sewer rate hikes would have been 17 percent every year for six years and totaled an increase of more than 100 percent. He lopped off the last three years of the hike so residents and commercial users will pay a 17 percent increase every year from 2017 to 2020 and a 2.5 percent increase every year thereafter.
Council members Duncan McCoy, Rich Shuman and Peggy Leavitt voted yes on the motion to raise the rates, effective Oct. 1. Councilman Cam Walker gave the sole “nay” vote, arguing the city should conduct a business impact study and hold town hall meetings for public feedback.
Walker’s concerns were mirrored by comments from about 15 residents, whose consensus was that the rate hike was too much and too sudden — they said they weren’t told about the rate changes or engaged in the discussion by council members.
Woodbury said the council has logged dozens of hours discussing the rate hikes in public forums and that even when the community is told of meetings and workshops, “it’s virtually impossible to get people to pay attention” Woodbury also said the city should look at suggestion such as using money that is already available in the utility fund to pay for system upgrades. Shuman added that city staff should consider bond options and explore conservation.
“To me, that’s weeds,” Woodbury said, referring to the details of the rate hikes that could be worked out later.
He said delaying the rate hikes would only mean kicking the can farther down the road.
“I’m not a doomsday guy, I’m not an alarmist … but the longer we go, the riskier it gets,” Woodbury said of the city’s aging utility infrastructure. “Do we want to keep gambling with our utilities?” The city also approved a budget for fiscal year 2017.
Contact Kimber Laux at email@example.com or 702-586-9523. Find @lauxkimber on Twitter.