PINEDALE – Just when Sublette County School District No. 1 (SCSD#1) thought its water issues were over after resolving the last year’s high lead levels, the district faces another significant hurdle – a big jump in its water and sewer rates.
Rate hikes for the school district from the town of Pinedale are so high that the water-bill conversation dominated much of last Thursday’s monthly trustees’ meeting at the Pinedale Administration Building.
According to superintendent Jay Harnack, SCSD#1’s water and sewer rates took a sharp increase of more than 600 percent, putting the district well over budget after looking at how much the increase will set them back annually.
With its budget of approximately $18,000 per year, Harnack says the new charges from the town of Pinedale would cause the district to spend its entire water budget in just two months.
“It’s conceivable we will have to reduce a staff member to pay our water bill,” he said. “I wonder if the city knows they’ve increased our bill 600 to 800 percent.”
Pinedale Town Council members approved rate increases back in late spring after they were told revenue was not meeting the recommended reserve levels.
While residential bills remained static, commercial users saw substantial increases. Considering SCSD#1 is one of the largest facilities in town, it is feeling the increase to a greater degree.
The district doesn’t know the exact size of all of its water lines, according to Harnack, but both 2-inch and 3-inch lines were discussed at the meeting.
“I think one of the directions that will emerge from this discussion is an accounting of the total number of meters in the district and their exact size,” Harnack said on Wednesday. “The bills don’t make that distinctly clear.”
In terms of the district’s average usage, the superintendent said it fluctuates depending on the time of year. In addition, the lack of billing information makes it difficult to pinpoint the district’s actual use.
According to the town of Pinedale website, new rates for a 3-inch water line call for a minimum fee of $166.25 per line, per month, with a 5,000-gallon usage allowance. For every thousand gallons over the allowance, the town charges $1.75.
As for sewer rates, each 3-inch line is billed $172.00 per month, with a 5,000-gallon usage allowance. Every thousand gallons over that limit would be billed $1.75.
SCSD#1 board clerk Charles Prior noted that water meter numbers don’t appear to match up and no information is included regarding base rates on the town’s bills.
“There’s no information on the bill whatsoever,” Prior said. “Almost every bill has something handwritten on it. We need to ask for better clarification on how they come up with the bills.”
SCSD#1 has little choice in regard to water and sewer rates, as they are required to provide both to the facilities and student body.
The main question Harnack posed is how SCSD#1 would deal with the spiking rates moving forward.
“Going forward, how do we handle a 600-plus increase?” he asked. “We’re going from an annual budget (for water and sewer) of $20,000 to $100,000, which will have an impact on the education process.”
“To me, there’s a lot of questions they need to answer so we can budget for it,” Prior said.
Board chair Jamison Ziegler gave his blessing to begin investigating the issue with the town of Pinedale to find the answers they need.
“I would like to meet and discuss what’s going on with our bills and do a physical walkthrough with them,” Harnack said.
“I suggest starting with the public works director,” Prior noted.
In other news from the meeting: