Every Wichita City Council action causes a reaction sooner or later. Tuesday’s meeting will matter to how much Wichitans pay for water next year and where they will see a show or symphony concert decades from now.
• The good news about the agenda item titled “Water and Sewer Rate Increases” is that it isn’t really news. The city expects to stick to its 10-year plan of annual rate increases, even in the wake of the August deluge that sharply reduced usage and revenue.
Staying the course this year won’t repair the trust of citizens who’ve seen the city punish water conservation in the past with higher rates – and who haven’t gone a year without a rate hike since 1997. But it means the city’s water utility is now financially stable enough not to fall into a crisis and require quick cash whenever demand drops. That’s a welcome change, as is the continued progress away from a rate structure that has residential users subsidizing commercial use. The plan also finds Alan King, director of public works and utilities, and staff looking out for the future, by devoting some of the money to essential infrastructure maintenance and improvements and by pursuing more accurate metering.
The bad news, of course, is that everybody still must pay more. The ordinance calls for a 6 percent increase on water rates and 5 percent on sewer rates as of January, for a combined 5.6 percent increase. The hike for residential customers would average 3.5 to 5 percent, compared with commercial users’ 6 percent increase.
• The agenda also will find the council taking a serious step – a planning and design study costing up to $240,000 – toward either renovating and expanding the Century II convention center or demolishing it and building new facilities.
The question of what to do about Century II presents itself because of the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau’s recently delivered market demand assessment, which found that the iconic 44-year-old blue-domed convention center is an outdated roadblock to booking conventions. A better facility, Go Wichita’s consultant said, could generate up to $30 million a year in convention business.
For Century II’s defenders, it’s disconcerting to learn that the $240,000 proposed to be used for the study is from the $1.9 million in capital improvement plan funding earmarked for Century II renovations this year (generated by the hotel guest tax). The preferred consulting team, GLMV Architecture/Populous, would be asked to spend from now through March working on concepts, meeting with stakeholders, doing site and building design plans, and estimating costs for two scenarios for Century II.
With costs and funding a mystery and the timeline so short, City Council members will need to proceed with caution and foresight as well as respect for Century II’s place in Wichita’s cultural history – taking special care to ensure the needs of the existing tenants and their patrons aren’t bulldozed by the zeal to improve Wichita’s convention fortunes.