|City hikes utilities, cites budget constraint: Resident objects to increase|
|September 30, 2016 Jerry Purvis|
At their Sept. 26 meeting, members of the Gering City Council passed ordinances to amend fees charged for city utilities, including landfill, sewer, electric, and water. Although there was little discussion as the ordinances were read and passed, there was some public comment before the meeting adjourned.
“I understand the utility rate increases have already been passed and approved,” Gering resident Robin Kinney told the council. “I did some research and found we’ve had yearly increases to our utility rates. It hit us hard this year. Our electric bill was $200 higher than for the same period last year. It wasn’t caused by a spike in usage.”
Kinney added that with a population of about 8,500, Gering has about 541 people on fixed incomes with 17.1 percent of the population at age 65 and above.
“I think that’s a significant number of people on fixed incomes who are absorbing the higher cost of utilities,” Kinney said. “That’s money they can’t spend with local businesses.”
She encouraged the council to consider other options next year, including cutting expenditures, line items in the budget, and duplication of services before passing along additional rate increases.
“Be good stewards of our money,” she said. “Look at what has to be done and figure out other ways of doing it before passing along another utilities increase. At my age, I don’t think I should have to take a second job just to keep the electricity on.”
After the meeting, Mayor Tony Kaufman said he understands the budget stress that increasing utility rates can cause, but one of the most important things the council does is to keep the city’s budget as small as possible while providing needed city services.
“We go over every detail and tough decisions have to be made,” Kaufman said. “Our electrical rates were a very small increase in the overall budget.”
He said that overall, federal and state governments have pushed back on municipalities expenses they used to cover. “This is chipping away at our local discretionary income as we have to cover those expenses,” he said. “All of us in Gering take pride in trying to create budgets that are sustainable and still meet all the community needs. Some-times that makes utility increases necessary.”
On Oct. 1, the new utility rates for Gering will include a minimum residential billing of $15.81 a month for sanitation for a single family.
Minimum city residential charge for water is $15.25 for 4,000 gallons, then $1.52 per 1,000 gallons, up to 150,000 gallons.
The new minimum charge for sewer services will be $24.77 a month for city residential and $30.18 outside of the city.
For residential electric service, the new minimum monthly bill is $29.70 for both summer and winter. Minimum commercial rates are $34.50 in summer and $30.30 in winter.