Water and sewer rates are expected to rise for Wichita customers starting Jan. 1.
The Wichita City Council will vote on proposed increases next Tuesday.
The rate increase, which could generate an additional $7.6 million, would help pay for repairs to existing infrastructure and for regulatory compliance projects, public works officials say. The city has more than 4,400 water and sewer lines.
Combined, the changes would lead to a 5.6 percent revenue increase for the water and sewer funds.
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The increases could cost most residential customers a few dollars more a month, but could cost commercial and industrial customers hundreds or even thousands more a year.
A few years ago, the city did a cost-of-service analysis and found that residential payers were paying about $2 more a month than it cost to serve them, said Ben Nelson, strategic services manager for Wichita’s public works department.
So city officials started a process in 2011 to “gradually close the gap between residential and other customers,” Nelson said.
The public works department probably will present multiple plans to the council that divvy the rate increase burden differently among residential, commercial and industrial payers, Nelson said.
Council member Jeff Longwell said he would like to see more parity in water rate increases immediately instead of over the next two years so that residents see less of an increase.
However, council member Janet Miller said she is concerned that moving away from the city’s five-year rate plan could create a burden on commercial and industrial users.
Some of the largest water users include the Wichita school district, Derby, Bel Aire, Rose Hill, Spirit AeroSystems, Hawker and Via Christi hospitals, according to the city.
The revenue generated by the rate increase would not go toward a long-term water supply and aquifer storage and recovery, costs that would have been funded by the proposed 1-cent sales tax that was defeated by voters in November.
“I don’t see how rate payers are ever going to be able to keep up with all the infrastructure we need,” said council member Jeff Blubaugh.
The city’s sewer fund is stressed because of increased projects to meet Kansas Department of Health and Environment standards, said Alan King, director of public works, and it’s being carried financially by the water fund.
Some of the funding could also be used to repair the city’s main wastewater pipe if it needs to be fixed, which will be determined by an upcoming evaluation by the public works department. The pipe, which was built in the 1950s, goes partially under the Arkansas River, Nelson said.
As part of the city’s regulatory compliance, the public works department is also planning to phase in a project to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from treated wastewater in the next six or seven years.
That project, which will be required under KDHE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, will cost an estimated $49 million over 10 years, Nelson said.
Combined monthly water and sewer bills for 2015
10 million gallons
Source: City of Wichita