Archive for Saturday, April 1, 2006

Sewer rates could go up

Commission unsure how much and if increase is needed

April 1, 2006


City commissioners began to caution that a rate increase may be necessary to fix the city's sewer crisis that is slowing development in the northwest part of the city.

"My fear is this is probably going to cause us to take another look at a rate study," City Commissioner David Schauner said Friday at a special "sewer summit" attended by about 50 developers, engineers and city leaders. "My fear is we're not going to have the funds."

But the summit also produced concerns that the city's proposed short-term fix may take years longer than the city anticipates. And the special meeting created long-term questions about whether the way the city's sewer system is run should be dramatically changed by creating a powerful public utilities board that would oversee the system.

Rate talk

The summit didn't produce specific cost estimates to implement a short-term plan to fix an overloading of the sewer system, but leaders conceded it would be several million dollars - most of which was not budgeted for this year.

Those costs are what could lead to a need to increase the monthly sewer bills that city residents pay. The move would likely produce concern among ratepayers because the city has implemented sewer rate increases of about 10 percent in both 2005 and 2006 in anticipation of building a $75 million sewer treatment plant along the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners - who stressed they weren't certain that a rate increase would be needed - did not give an estimate of how much rates might need to increase. Staff members also said that the commission would need to have a discussion about whether developers in the area should be asked to pay for some of the costs related to the short-term fix.

Chris Williams, Lawrence, an employee with Stubbs Construction, works at a house on Legend's Drive being built by Highland Construction Inc. Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said he's laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because they're concerned the area's sewer system couldn't handle the growth.

Chris Williams, Lawrence, an employee with Stubbs Construction, works at a house on Legend's Drive being built by Highland Construction Inc. Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said he's laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because they're concerned the area's sewer system couldn't handle the growth.

But city commissioners were told Friday that they must do something to fix the problem. The city has held up a number of single family neighborhoods and commercial developments in the area north of Sixth Street and west of Kasold Drive amid concerns that the new development would overfill sewer pipes and cause basements and homes downstream of the developments to suffer sewer backups.

"I'm here to tell you that we're in a shutdown mode," Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering, said of the ability to build new developments.

Finding solutions

Staff members said city commissioners would be presented with options within the next two weeks detailing how the northwest system could be fixed to handle additional sewage quickly. The city plan includes adding larger pumps in a station near Sixth Street and Queens Road, enlarging pipes near Lake Alvamar in West Lawrence and building a new pump station in northern Lawrence near the Kansas Turnpike.

Parts of the city plan could be completed in about 12 weeks, while the new pump station could take as much as two years. But Debbie Van Saun, assistant city manager, said developers could begin building their projects sooner than that because the sewer hookup isn't needed until people actually begin to move into the homes or businesses.

The city's plan could be controversial because developers left Friday's meeting concerned that the city's timeline wasn't realistic and could leave approved projects waiting for several years before they could be connected to a city sewer.

"Being someone who has worked on projects like this, I know that they can just eat up a tremendous amount of time," said Struble, who said a new pump station could take longer than the city anticipated because it would involve significant numbers of easements and property acquisitions.

Instead, developers want the city to enlarge the pipes near Lake Alvamar and add the new pumps at the Sixth Street and Queens Road location, but also add new pumps at an existing pump station farther west of that site and add a pump station near Free State High School.

City staff members said that the developers' plan could create immediate sewer back-up problems in other areas south of Sixth Street. Developers didn't agree with that analysis.

Commissioners directed members of the city's Utilities Department to hear more about the developers' plan and analyze it further and bring comments back to the commission.

Utilities board

Staff members also were directed to look at what could be a far-reaching proposal to create a public utilities board that would oversee the city's sewer system and perhaps its water utility as well.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he wanted the idea studied because he questioned whether city commissioners were the best-equipped people to make decisions about highly technical sewer systems.

"Rather than us dealing with a 125-page document on a Tuesday night trying to get answers, we would have a board working on this on a regular basis," Amyx said.

Commissioners, though, didn't go into exact details about how a public utilities board would work. Some utilities boards have broad authority to spend money generated by the utilities and also to set utility rates. Other boards serve more as an advisory board to a city commission. Amyx said the city could use the board structure of the city-owned Lawrence Memorial Hospital as a model. That board controls all spending decisions for the hospital and is responsible for overseeing all its operations. The board members are appointed by city commissioners.

Staff members said they would gladly research the options, but also sought to assure the crowd that steps had already been taken to ensure that future sewer problems wouldn't creep up on the city again. David Corliss, the city's new interim city manager, made no bones about telling the audience that city staff members shouldered much of the blame for the current situation.

"We know there were mistakes made in City Hall as far as implementing the wastewater master plan," Corliss said. "A lot of that is why we are here today."

Specifically, Corliss said that staff had not focused enough on confirming that actual development that was occurring was in line with what was predicted in the wastewater master plan. Around June 2005, staff members discovered that development in the northwest area of town was significantly outpacing what was projected in the master plan.


satchel 12 years ago

I can't believe this, they are going to raise the rates on the public for something they did wrong? Unbelievable! Is this city run by liberals?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

This is quite clearly a problem created by growth. The increase in rates over the last two years for the new sewer treatment plant is necessary to meet the needs of new construction, not the needs of existing users.

If another rate increase is needed, it'll be so Phil Struble and friends can hook up more new construction, not so the city can replace aging infrastructure for current and long-time ratepayers. But I bet you'd really hear a howl if Phil and friends had to pick up the tab necessitated by their development activities.

cowboy 12 years ago

10 % increases the past two years , not to mention the incereases prior to that , the city is out of control and like any private business should get its spending under control and set base priorities.

Start the cut list on this thread for all the dumb crap the city funds.

The all time dumbest roundabout on Clinton Parkway

90,000 dollars in flowers for downtown

Cut the job of the guy who steals everyones garage sale signs

Cut the sculpture funding for bad art

Cut the homeless funding

Cut the Cof C funding , they are largely useless

Stop picking up yard waste , build a drop off point

Freeze Management Salaries until the budget is squared up

Cancel all city travel & Entertainment

freeze purchase of new vehicles

Reveiw all reserve funds and allocate all to base infrastructure.


LivedinLawrence4Life 12 years ago

Every house that is built pays a huge sewer tap fee and then each of those homes gets a water bill that includes a monthly sewer fee. Where is all that money going? Most entities that charge a large up front fee and a significant monthly fee for their services can afford and want to expand their client base. Every house in Lawrence pays a monthly sewer fee. Where is that money going? Where is the money going from all the "impact fees" that are charged to builders when they get a building permit from the city. That money is supposed to go toward these improvements. Increasing sewer rates for existing homes isn't the answer!

cowboy 12 years ago

I agree with you for once Bozo , they haven't paid thier own way but this problem is deeper.

Cut the T funding

Sell the Eagle Bend course to a private company

And here is a big one for ya to chomp on , what is the cause of the annual growth of sales tax only being 2.8% when surrounding metro areas are seeing 5-7 percent growth ?

when you make it complex / expensive to start a business , have high land prices , ban 25% of the population from your bars and restaurants , shut down the biggest celebration day of the year , it all has a cumulative effect on what people spend here.

answer the 2.8% growth question and use it to drive policy change .

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 12 years ago

Why should I pay for the developers needs? If they want to buiild new houses let them pay for a new sewer system. Frankly I think the city did a responsible thing putting construction on hold. An irresponsible government would have let the construction go on, then there would have been sewage problems. I'm middle of the road, so for many of you, I'm a flaming liberal. Shouldn't the conservative stand be that the developers should pay, not the taxpayers? Is welfare ok for corporations, but not kids? My quality of life has room for art, but not those ugly ticky tack houses. Also I prefer art to those 3,000 plus square foot houses where only 2-4 people live. If you want a house like that, fine, but build your own sewer.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"Cut the T funding"

Federal grants make up the largest percentage of this funding, so that wouldn't do much for the local budget, and it would stop progress in establishing a vital service to a large segment of the Lawrence population, especially as gas prices are headed to $100 a barrel.

"Sell the Eagle Bend course to a private company"

I suppose it might be leased to a private company, but it's on federal, not city property, isn't it? Anyway, we're still talking about very small potatoes, as are most of the misc. complaints, such as roundabouts and dada celebrations, and if added all up don't even make a noticeable scratch in major infrastructure problems. Until the bonds on it are paid off, it's less of a drain on the city to keep it open.

The sales tax problem is one and the same as the cause of the sewer problem-- residential sprawl. This has become a bedroom community, and those commuters make a huge percentage of their purchases in KC and Topeka, where they work. Building excess retail capacity won't make them buy any more here, but it will cause lots of businesses here to fail, with the result being the blight of scores of vacant and poorly maintained storefronts.

In other words, the policies of rampant residential development are coming home to roost, and nobody wants to pick up the tab, least of all the developers who have profited so handsomely from it.

Godot 12 years ago

True, this problem has its roots in years of mismanagement by Wildgen and staff and city commissions, but this commission, since 2001, has been the most incompetent, wasteful and self-indulgent crew I've seen in the 30 years I've owned property in Douglas County.

Regarding the Utilities Board, this may be a good idea, but I say put it on the ballot, and if voters approve it, let the new commission make the appointments. There is no way this bunch should do it. We'll be suffering the effects of their appointments to other boards for years to come, as it is.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Why not have the people who need the new sewer services pay for them, OTR? Isn't that the "right" thing to do?

cowboy 12 years ago

Theolder neighborhods take city money also folks , sidewalks , streets , new water and sewer lines . anyone who has run a business knows there arent two big items to cut , efficiency is garnered by gettting a few percent everywhere.

the reserve is low because the CC fritters away money and has for years on useless BS. The developed Eagle Bend is worth some bucks and cuts further bleeding. The T , enuf said , how much administrator salary and benefits does it take to run ?

This city needs a housecleaning top to bottom , finance , planning , legal . How much has the Walmart legal fight cost. Start adding up all the screwups and waste and you will find a large chunk !

And Iagree with Marion that the city is full of poop !

gontek 12 years ago

The mistake was made in the planning department. I was one of the "staff members" who discovered the mistake in the growth estimates. The mistakes were worse then they make it sound.

I believe the city is well situated to handle the problem now. The staff at the Utilities is highly competent and they have several new engineers. I left for greener pastures in Aug. 05. It is interesting to watch how this is playing out.

gontek 12 years ago

Wildgen had nothing to do with it. The only mistake he made was to trust the staff at the time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Eagle Bend was a creation of one of the last chambercrat-dominated commissions, and it was done as a government-financed amenity for all the residential development out west. It hasn't paid for itself, but until the bonds are paid off, it'd cost more to shut it down.

The T was created by the same commission, but largely as a recognition that it's a service any city the size of Lawrence needs. The mistake at the time it was established was not integrating it with the KU system. That still needs to be done, and putting more effort into doing that is a much wiser choice than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Rate increases of the past two years, and the one threatened in this article, were not implemented to take care of aging infrastructure in older parts of town. They were added to pay for new infrastructure that growth is obviously not paying for.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Gontek-- how did they arrive at those estimates, and why were they so far off?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

No, I'm saying new development needs to pay for any new infrastructure it requires. Once in the system, monthly rates would cover maintenance and upgrades.

monkeyhawk 12 years ago

Yes, gontek, since you have an "nsider" position, why don't you come clean as to how this situtation came to be?

Many in this city believe that the figures were intentionally fed to Black and Veatch to reflect the "desired" growth, rather than the actual and realistic projection of growth.

Jay_Z 12 years ago

Bozo, the money WASTED on roundabouts is "small potatoes"? I remember reading that some of those things cost at least $500,000! I know, what's done is done, but stop wasting money on those damn things and get the priorities straightened out. And I agree with the comment about the not spend $30 million on that unnecessary thing when BASIC infrastructure is failing in the city. Fix the damn sewers. Fix the roads. Build the SLT. And fix the mess at city hall at the next election.

Godot 12 years ago

Before we get too excited about a Utilities Board that is modelled on the hospital board, consider that the hospital board is planning a huge expansion even though they admit that there are not enough patients in the community to make full use of the current facitlities. They hope to draw people from other cities by offering more services. This will, no doubt, also require a massive infusion of tax dollars.

I say no to the library/convention center, no to the sports center and no to the expansion of the hospital until basic infrastructure needs are brought back under some semblance of control

Fred Sherman 12 years ago

"The mistake at the time it was established was not integrating it with the KU system. That still needs to be done, and putting more effort into doing that is a much wiser choice than throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

Define "The KU System". KU on Wheels is a student run system it's not a university run bus system.

The KU administrators have for decades kept an arm's length away from being involved in the KU on Wheels system - even back when the coordinator was depositing bus pass revenues into his own bank account only to purchase property in Colorado and allegedly inhale white powder. The new park and ride system on west campus and the purchase of busses using federal funds via the city is the first crack in the KU administration owning up to being part of the community-wide bus system. The T primarily provides a needed means of transportation in the community for those without other means of transportation; its current route structure is not designed to be a commuter mass-transit system as its primary objective. An integrated university/community bus system will only work once KU structures it's parking rate costs so they are way more than the cost of a bus pass. The problem with this issue is on the hill, not at City Hall.

Godot 12 years ago

My Lawrence water bill from last month:

solid waste 11.95 Storm water 4.00 Sewer 32.03

WATER only 14.74!!!

I am renaming that bill the SEWER BILL.

gccs14r 12 years ago

Those of you who dislike the current majority on the City Commission seem to think that we're going to put chambercrats back in charge even though the ill effects of years of their rule are being revealed. You might as well move away now, 'cause we're not going back to the old ways of rolling over for the developers.

Godot 12 years ago

Not everyone in this city is aligned with either the PLC or the Chamber of Commerce.

Split the city up into precincts that elect their own commissioner. There are several distinct neighborhoods in this city. Each one deserves representation on the commission; each needs a voice, someone who has a vested interest in the neighborhood.

Better yet, West Lawrence should secede and establish its own governance.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"Better yet, West Lawrence should secede and establish its own governance."

I think a more likely scenario is that Douglas County and Lawrence City governments would merge. Not that I think that's all that likely, either.

Here's a suggestion: Have a commission with 7 members. Divide the city into 4 districts, with 4 of the 7 commissioners coming from those districts, and they would have 2-year terms. 3 other commissioners would be elected at large from the entire city. Of those three, the highest voter getter would be a member of the commission AND mayor. These three would have 4-year terms. Adopt instant run-off voting instead of having both a primary and a general election. Limit the campaign to 6 weeks from filing day to election day. We should pay commissioners a "half-time" wage of around $20,000 a year, and the mayor "full-time" at around $40,000.

I think the county should go to to 7 commissioners and districts. too. One district each would be centered around Lecompton, Eudora and Baldwin and rural areas up to Lawrence. The other four would likely be completely Lawrence.

And hey, my pipedream is as good as the next.

gontek 12 years ago

I found it as we were beginning studies in the area, the new engineer and I were looking at the estimates, and I found several tracts that were in obvious error. I told the engineer immediately. Contacting the paper or some local forum would bave been against city policy and potentially unethical.

Estimated gworth is handled by the planning department, based on building permits I believe, and the 1990/2000 census. If I remember they estimate out to 2025, and several census tracts were at or near 2010 levels in 2005. Some tracts went down in population according to the data.

It could have been as simple as a calculation error at city hall. I am also disappointed that B&V did not noticie an error and point it out to the city, like my engineering company would have.

monkeyhawk 12 years ago

"Mistakes" such as this should not occur in a properly run city. $26 million dollar mistake in valuation, mistake in the size of roundabouts, mistakes in handing out permits, etc. Was selling 1.1 acres of prime commercial city owned land for $26,000 a mistake as well?

Those who advocate clustered, communal living at a very high price should be proud of their accomplishments thus far...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Knee-jerking as usual, I see, Marion. If you had actually read what I wrote, my suggestion was that the mayor would be elected to a 4-year term. I said nothing about whether they would have more or less power than they currently do, but even if it were left more or less as it is, by merely giving them a 4-year term instead of a 1-year term it would be a much more powerful position.

monkeyhawk-- the appraiser is a county office. The city has nothing to do with appraisals.

There's probably much more to the story of the sale of the property to Elwell than just the sale price. If you think there is something nefarious going on, perhaps you should call the acting city manager, or one the commissioners, and ask. Or maybe one of the JW reporters who surfs this forum could do so.

Godot 12 years ago

Monkeyhawk is on the right trail; Bozo is blowing smoke.

Godot 12 years ago

Elwell got a sweetheart deal. Period. I don't have any avenues to investigate this sale, but the LJW does. What about it, Dolph?

satchel 12 years ago

They didn't plan well, they keep asking for more money from the tax payers? They are already getting tons of funding.. THEY KNEW LAWRENCE WOULD BE EXPANDING, SHEESH! You would think they would have PLANNED for it with all the money they take from their customers?? and what is being done with that money?Ditto..Livedinlawrence4life! Dorothy: That is what the conservatives are saying.. STOP MILKING MONEY FROM THE CITIZENS TO PAY FOR IT. What have they done with all the money they have milked already and are still taking? That is where the money should come from to fix it.. Find out how they have wasted it, or if any of it is being wasted or anyone is getting overpaid and make them pay it back for crying out loud! You see, that is the problem with taxes.. Once they say they need it for something, THEY DON'T STOP TAKING IT. Such as the TOLL ROADS.. When in the heck are they going to quit taking our money for that?

Godot 12 years ago

The commission should engage an accouting firm to conduct an audit of the receipts and expenditures for the City of Lawrence for the past 18 years. Perhaps that audit will reveal where the money went.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Glad to see we're dealing with "actual facts" tonight. (sarcasm alert!)

Godot 12 years ago

Elect commissioners by precinct, and elect a Mayor in a general election, the finalists having been selected as the result of a primary election.

This runoff crap is an attempt to limit voter input modelled after socialist/communist societies.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

"This runoff crap is an attempt to limit voter input modelled after socialist/communist societies."

The paranoia runs deep.

lunacydetector 12 years ago

the root of the problem:

lack of retail. retailers generate sales taxes and commercial property taxes.

for too many years, the city has let one professor from KU dictate that lawrence had too much retail. the recent study the city commission commissioned found this to be utterly false.

the cure all for lawrence's ills is to expand retail development.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Retail development doesn't guarantee that retail sales (and sales taxes) will increase, but any development of any kind will mean increased costs in city services and infrastructure, and if overall retail sales fail to increase (very likely in this bedroom community) we'll be left with a lot empty commercial buildings abandoned by the businesses that have gone out of business-- otherwise known as blight.

I know considering that little fact goes against your religion, but it's there nonetheless.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

A connector straight north along Noria road, from the business park/K-10 to the intersection of K-32 and the turnpike would be about 3 1/2 miles, with one bridge over the Kaw. The nasty Noria Rd/K-10 intersection could be fixed at the same time, and if the SLT is ever finished, it would complete a loop around Lawrence. And if the SLT never is completed, it'd relieve a lot of the congestion folks want the SLT to do.

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