Archive for Tuesday, August 10, 1999

UTILITY RATE HIKE ON TAP

August 10, 1999

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The city plans a $37 million expansion to its sewage treatment plant; paying for it will be left to customers -- both new and old.

For most Lawrence residents, the cost of water and sewer service would go up 16 percent over the next five years under a plan being presented tonight to city commissioners.

Virtually all of that increase would result from increases in sewer utility rates. Although the plan calls for some adjustments in the way water bills are calculated, the net result would be no change, or a slight decrease, in water rates for most existing customers.

However, the plan does suggest raising fees charged for new connections to the city's water and sewer system. That increase would add $170 to the cost of a new home by the year 2004.

And the plan suggests dramatic increases in fees for emptying waste from septic tanks and portable toilets into the city's wastewater treatment plant -- increases that could range from $50.51 to $313.70 per load, depending on whether the city or Douglas County pays for a new facility to handle that process.

The changes were proposed by engineers at Black & Veatch, a Kansas City, Mo., firm hired to study the city's utility rates and recommend changes to meet future costs of operation, maintenance, debt service and capital improvements.

Representatives of the firm will present their plan to commissioners at tonight's meeting, scheduled for 6:35 p.m. at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.

Lawrence's water and wastewater utilities are financed by an "enterprise fund," meaning all the money used to operate the utilities comes from fees charged for the services. No tax dollars are used to subsidize the utilities.

Under current rates, Lawrence collects about $17.6 million a year in its water and sewer fund, a single account that collects money from both utilities.

Over the next five years, however, officials expect the city's population will grow by about 10,000, meaning the water system will have to pump an addition 200 million gallons a year, while the sewage treatment plant will have to process an additional 100 million gallons of wastewater each year.

That will mean expanding the city's water and wastewater treatment plants, in addition to adding new mains, pump stations and other equipment needed to handle the increased demand.

The city already is planning a $37 million expansion to the sewage treatment plant. The project, to begin next year, will be the largest public works project ever undertaken by the city.

The city also expects to expand the Clinton Lake water treatment plant beginning in 2003.

The treatment plant projects will be financed with a combination of utility revenue bonds, money borrowed from a state revolving loan fund, and cash on hand in the water and sewer fund.

According to budget information from the city, the water and sewer fund has been carrying a cash balance of about $10 million a year -- over and above its regular income and expenses -- for each of the last two years.

The proposed increases initially would add about $1.07 a month to the combined water and sewer bill for a family of three living in a single-family home and using an average of 6,000 gallons of water per month. By 2004, the plan suggests, that same family would pay $6.08 more a month than they do now.

That would mean a change from $37.27 per month now to $38.34 next year and $43.35 by 2004, according to the report.

Those figures do not include charges for stormwater service and trash-hauling service, which also are included on the city's monthly utility bills.

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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