City residents will begin dropping more into city coffers for water and sewer service in 1993 with an 8 percent rate increase approved on first reading Tuesday by Lawrence city commissioners.
For the average residential customer using 8,000 gallons per month, the charge for water service will increase from $18.50 to $20.05 a month.
For the same customer, the sewer charge will rise from $11.05 to $11.94 a month. The new rates for 1993 would go into effect Nov. 15 and appear on customer bills in January, City Manager Mike Wildgen said.
Commissioners were shy about pushing through the increases, which they committed to last fall in a five-year plan for rate hikes and system improvements.
Under the five-year plan, rates for water and wastewater service would snowball by 8 percent a year between 1992 an 1996. Commissioners would have to approve the rate increase on a year-by-year basis.
"An 8 percent increase is a substantial increase to pass onto someone," Commissioner Bob Schumm said.
"It's kind of frightening," added Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith.
COMMISSIONER John Nalbandian, who voiced concerns last year when the five-year plan was approved, urged commissioners to "move on."
"We had this discussion about the money, and I don't think it's fair to look back . . .," Nalbandian said.
The higher rates are needed to pay for millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades to utilities equipment and facilities, Wildgen said.
Such projects would include water main improvements and expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant. Commissioners will consider issuing $3 million in bonds this fall for some of these projects.
Commissioners worried that current customers would shoulder the burden of expanding the utilities system for future residents.
"Why don't we increase water tap fees for people with new service" instead of charging current customers, Schumm said.
Mayor Bob Schulte responded that residents in new neighborhoods were helping pay for repairs to water and sewer lines in older sections of the city.
"WE ARE A community and we enhance that sense of community by not saying, `I'm going to pay for this here, and you pay for that,'" Schulte said.
Commissioners approved an ordinance on first reading for the increases and also authorized 1993 water rate increases for customers outside the city. The city will likely give final approval to the ordinance at next week's meeting, Dave Corliss, assistant to the city manager, said this morning.
The city sells water wholesale to Rural Water Districts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 13, as well as to the city of Baldwin. Under the increase, rates will jump to $1.22 for every 1,000 gallons. The current cost per 1,000 gallons is $1.17.
Commissioners also approved higher wastewater rates for several industrial customers who are charged extra for flushing wastewater that needs heavier treatment than regular residential waste.