The 6 percent increase, to take effect next year, will help pay for an estimated $154 million in system improvements over the next 10 years.
Lawrence residents will pay more to run their faucets and flush their toilets next year, thanks to an expanding city and new regulations.
On Tuesday night, Lawrence city commissioners agreed to boost combined water and sewer rates beginning Dec. 1.
The average residential customer, who now pays $37.44 a month, will pay $39.62 monthly next year -- an increase of $2.18 a month.
The 6 percent increase will kick off a set of rate increases scheduled for each of the next five years. The rates will help pay for an estimated $154 million in system improvements during the next 10 years.
Mayor Bob Moody, who noted that nobody ever wants to tell people to pay more for basic services, conceded that a consultant's recommended construction projects needed financing from somewhere.
"It's overwhelmingly imperative," he said.
Commissioners differed, however, on how those fees should be charged. The new fees passed on a 3-2 vote.
Commissioners Jo Andersen and Allen Levine pledged not to support the rate increases unless the city also agreed to charge owners of new homes and businesses additional fees to pay for new water and sewer facilities.
Such "impact fees," they argued, would soften the financial blow on existing Lawrence residents who already have paid into an existing system for years -- a system new residents would take advantage of relatively free of charge.
"I don't want to hit the taxpayers with growth that doesn't pay for itself," Levine said.
Such growth includes plans to spend $33.5 million expanding the city's wastewater treatment plant or $6.2 million to build a 4 million-gallon holding pond in southwest Lawrence.
But Commissioner Bonnie Augustine, a banker, doesn't buy that argument. New homes and businesses benefit Lawrence by generating new sales taxes and spawning more local purchases.
Besides, she said, a recommendation to charge developers $965 to $1,980 to hook each new home into the city's water and sewer system actually would end up charging current city residents. A local bank recently reported that 66 percent of new homes sold this year were purchased by current Lawrence residents.
"It would hit people that are already here," said Augustine, who recently bought an new home and sold her old one to a new resident.
While the increased water and sewer fees are ready to go, commissioners unanimously agreed to look into charging new homes and businesses impact fees. Augustine and Andersen agreed to work with staffers to hammer out a proposal, but no deadline was set.
Earlier in the meeting, commissioners also agreed to boost sanitation rates for next year. Trash collection for residential customers next year will cost $9.47 each month -- an increase of 18 cents, or 2 percent.
- Should owners of new homes be charged impact fees to pay for new water and sewer facilities? Answer the J-W Access question on page 2B.