Politics & Government

‘Water torture’: How much will you pay with new rates?

Wichita’s water treatment plant.
Wichita’s water treatment plant.

You’ll pay more for Wichita water and sewer service next year, but city officials are making some changes they hope will help keep bills down in the long run.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved about a 6 percent increase in the combined water and sewer rate for 2018.

For an average residential user of 7,500 gallons a month, the combined bill will rise from $63.29 to $67.35, an increase of $4.06.

The size of your bill will vary based on what you use.

If you’re a small-scale water user at 3,500 gallons a month, your bill will go up $2.69 cents. But if you’ve got a big house and big yard, you could be spending an extra $6.72 for 15,000 gallons of H2O.

A commercial user pulling 100,000 gallons will see the bill rise $39.04, from a current $602.17 to $641.21.

About a fourth of the increase will go toward efforts to keep future bills down, said Alan King, Wichita director of public works.

The city faced a rate increase of 4.3 percent just to maintain the status quo and keep up with the ongoing replacement of worn-out equipment, King said.

The additional 1.75 percent increase voted in Tuesday will go into a five-year program to improve system operations and maintenance, which is expected to save bigger money down the line, King said.

He said the extra charge will generate about $2.6 million a year for five years. The department will hire six new employees and pay some consulting fees to try to make the system more efficient.

For example, the department can manage its supplies better, cutting the amount of chemicals needed for treating water, King said.

Also, the department will be able to put more money into preventive maintenance, which is much cheaper than dealing with water emergencies, he said.

When finished, the department hopes to achieve annual savings of about $6.5 million a year, he said. While that may not prevent future rate increases, it will reduce them, King said.

City Council members agonized over the decision – council member Bryan Frye called it “water torture.”

Mayor Jeff Longwell said it’s frustrating to have to raise rates, but it’s more costly to let the system degrade like the city did in years past.

“I can remember going back almost a decade when this city didn’t didn’t invest anything,” Longwell said. “We certainly let our assets deteriorate to the point where it became a problem.”

Longwell said he considered asking to delay the vote.

But, he said, “I can see the value in aggressively pursuing the opportunity to save money. I guess I’m ready to move forward, as painful as it is.”

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, expected to ascend to governor later this month, celebrates the release of the Republican tax plan in Washington Thursday.