Water meters and development standards will take a good share of county officials' attention this fall.
Douglas County commissioners will put a deal to free up rural water meters on the front burner to make sure it can be approved concurrently with Horizon 2020, the new countywide guide plan.
During a scheduling discussion Monday, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said that simply approving Horizon 2020 won't make a new water meter deal happen. In addition, the county must go through the steps of adopting new regulations to implement the higher development standards in Horizon 2020.
``That process will require at least two or three months,'' Weinaug said, noting that public hearings and consideration by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will be part of the mix.
The city of Lawrence has agreed to renegotiate its water treatment contracts with rural water districts if the county adopts the higher development standards for the rural areas most likely to be annexed into the city.
Weinaug told commissioners he would put the process in motion by scheduling discussion of both Horizon 2020 and the water meter agreement for their next meeting, which will be at 6:35 p.m. Sept. 18.
The Horizon 2020 issue had been on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting but commissioners agreed to cancel it so they could attend the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's Fall Mixer. Monday's meeting has been canceled because Commissioner Jim Chappell will be out of town.
County commissioners intend for the water meter issue to be on the planning commission's agenda in October.
In considering the water meter issue, commissioners believe time is of the essence for two reasons: Commissioners Louie McElhaney and Jim Chappell leave office in January and Rural Water Districts 4 and 5 are trying to buy land for a $5 million treatment plant of their own. That project would free the rural utilities from city control but would saddle rural residents with higher water costs.
``If we allow those people in (RWDs) 4 and 5 to go out and build this plant, we could do a lot of damage to the rate structure,'' Chappell said.
McElhaney said he's concerned that rural land owners are being asked to give up too much in exchange for more meters. He believes that Horizon 2020 and the city agreement, which increase infrastructure standards in developing rural areas, would limit a property owner's flexibility.
However, McElhaney said that even though the water districts may not be required to let members vote on the plant proposal, he believes the people who will pay for the facility should be asked to endorse the project.
``I cannot believe that they're going to be able to build a plant without the consent of the people who already have meters,'' McElhaney said.
``It's called political reality,'' said Commissioner Mark Buhler.