City weighing plans for water utility

The city got three qualified proposals from firms to provide interim management for Wichita's financially strapped Water Utilities Department and re-evaluate its massive aquifer recharge project, City Manager Robert Layton said.

City officials are mum on which firm they'll recommend and how much it might cost, but they've completed their review of proposals.

The City Council was poised to vote on one Tuesday. But Layton said he pushed that vote back one week to give council members and the public, upon request, time to review proposal documents.

Whichever firm it is won't already have a stake in the $550 million Equus Beds Aquifer Storage and Recharge project because of the city's conflict-of-interest rules, Layton said.

Meanwhile, City Council members will vote Tuesday on a charter ordinance aimed at shoring up some of the water utility's far-reaching financial problems.

Typically, council members vote to issue debt before it actually works on the projects causing the debt.

Since the utility had a huge spike in spending on a sewer line expansion program, Tuesday's vote will let the city issue debt to pay for work that's already done.

That move and the April 13 vote to hire a consultant come after the city announced that its water utility miscalculated how much water it would sell to consumers and based its debt payments on a flawed plan.

Those errors are why Layton will ask council members in coming months to approve a 15 percent increase to water rates, effective June 1.

More rate increases are expected to follow in January and years to come.