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Proposed increase in Wichita water rate about same as last year

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 8:19 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, at 9 a.m.

Although a wet summer is expected to leave the city of Wichita’s water revenue $12 million short of projections, the proposed water and sewer rate increase for 2014 would be almost identical to this year’s jump.

A plan adopted a couple of years ago has helped prevent large spikes of increases when demand fluctuates significantly, city officials said.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider adopting a recommended increase that averages 5.6 percent for all customers, according to a city document. The increase for 2013 was 5.8 percent.

Depending on the amount of water used, residential customers would see their bills increase from 3.5 percent to 5 percent, said Ben Nelson, strategy manager for the Public Works and Utilities Department. That also is the same as what went into effect this year.

Commercial customers would see a 6 percent rate increase, Nelson said. Last year’s increase ranged from 6 percent to 7 percent.

New rate increases would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Under the proposed plan, residential users would see their bills average an increase of $1.32 to $5.21 per month.

Commercial customers would see an average monthly increase of $29.29. Industrial users would average an increase of $2,721.

The residential customers’ percentage increase is slightly lower because the city is still working through a five-year plan it started in 2012, Nelson said. A study done in 2011 found that residential customers were being charged $2 more per month than it cost the city to serve them.

To make up for that $2 difference, residential customers get a slight break through 2016.

The same study also led the city to take a more conservative approach to projecting water use, Nelson said.

“That built in some durability for us so in times when we had more rain like we did this summer,” Nelson said, “we weren’t way out of the ballpark.”

In previous years, wide fluctuations in water use resulted in larger increases or emergency rate increases.

During the drought years of 2011 and 2012, higher water use brought in $16million more in revenue that had been estimated, Nelson said.

That money was added to a cash reserve fund, which has come in handy with much lower water use this year. It’s estimated water sales will be $12 million lower than the $77.2 million that was budgeted for 2013, Nelson said.

From July to August, Wichita saw 18.32 inches of rain – the second highest amount on record, according to the National Weather Service in Wichita. As of Friday, the city has received almost 9 inches of rain above normal for the year.

The cash reserve fund, however, isn’t only used to get through wet years, said Alan King, director of Public Works and Utilities.

It’s also used to reduce debt by paying cash for infrastructure improvements, he said. That also reduces costs and helps keep rates down, he added.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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