Politics & Government

Wichita City Council to vote on water rate increases

Duane Boutz, a supervisor with Dondlinger & Sons Construction Co., inspects a leaded joint in an old and corroded water line that was removed along 13th Street. Increases in water usage bills will help pay for repairs and infrastructure needs. (Feb. 7, 2013)
Duane Boutz, a supervisor with Dondlinger & Sons Construction Co., inspects a leaded joint in an old and corroded water line that was removed along 13th Street. Increases in water usage bills will help pay for repairs and infrastructure needs. (Feb. 7, 2013) File photo

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Penny Feist's name.

Water and sewer rates are set to rise again for city residents in 2016.

The Wichita City Council will choose Tuesday among four different ways the city could charge businesses and homeowners for their water use.

Whatever the model, most Wichitans will see their water bills increase by about 5 percent to maintain the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

“They’re increasing regardless,” said Public Works and Utilities director Alan King. “It’s to cover increased rehabilitation and repair costs. We’re replacing more of our system.”

The city charges people or businesses based on their water usage. It does that by sorting customers into different levels based on how many gallons of water they use.

The council could decide to keep those levels the same. But council members also could vote for a new system that would split moderate water users into two new categories.

King said that means heavier water users will see slightly larger increases than more moderate consumers.

“It’s going to penalize, to some extent, what an average bill is going to look like for people who use a lot of water,” King said.

Businesses and industrial sites will see higher rate increases than homeowners. That’s because the city has discovered in recent years a gap in how it was collecting water revenue.

“We were undercollecting revenue from commercial customers, and we were overcollecting revenue from residential customers,” said Penny Feist, a senior public works analyst.

But 2016 will be the last year the city’s rate increases will fall more heavily on commercial properties.

“After that, the increases will be across the board,” Feist said.

Whether they change the water levels or not, council members can also vote for an increase of a tenth of a cent, which would enhance a city program that helps people struggling to pay their water bills.

The city’s Help 2 Others program provides one-time assistance to low-income customers whose water is shut off or in danger of being shut off. It’s funded by residents who let the city round up their bill to the nearest dollar. King said it helps about 250 customers.

But council members could approve a tenth of a cent increase that would expand the H2O program to about 1,000 customers. It could also be used for up to four years by residents.

Residential owners’ monthly bills would rise between 4 and 14 cents.

“We’re thinking that could make a significant improvement in the kind of help that’s available to people at the low-income end that have difficulty paying their water bill,” King said.

The city’s water funds will see $4.6 million more in revenue, about a 5.5 percent increase. Its sewer funds would rise $2.7 million, up about 5 percent.

The increases will take effect Jan. 1.

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