It looks like Lawrence residents won’t be paying higher water and sewer rates in 2011 after all.
After commissioners earlier this month expressed concerns about proposed increases of 4 percent for most users, City Hall staff members have taken rate increases out of next year’s budget.
“We’re taking a one year breather to help out the taxpayers, the residents,” said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut. “The last thing they need right now is an increase of any kind.”
Commissioners are set to approve the budget at their Tuesday evening meeting at City Hall.
With water and sewer rate increases apparently off the table, city residents are looking at virtually the same set of taxes and fees for 2011 as they have for 2010.
Commissioners long ago ruled out an increase in the property tax rate — it stays steady at 26.6 mills. Now, commissioners have directed staff members to reduce operating expenses in the city’s trash service to limit increases in trash rates.
Originally, staff members had proposed about a $1 per month increase in trash rates to help cover increased tipping fees at the landfill. But at the direction of commissioners, staff members have tightened that budget and now are proposing a 70-cent per month increase for residential customers, which amounts to a 5-percent increase.
Eliminating the water and sewer rate increases will require the city to put on hold some of their larger utility projects. That includes a project to improve the main water intake on the Kansas River. It also will slow plans to replace the 80-year old water tower in the 1200 block of Oread Avenue.
But City Manager David Corliss said he is confident that the one-year pause won’t cause the city to play catch-up on utility infrastructure projects, much like the city is doing currently with street projects.
“I think the main difference is that this pause is just going to be for one year,” Corliss said.
The utility budget will have adequate funding to do all types repair work needed on water and sewer lines. It also will provide funding for water and sewer master plans, which will produce a list of projects for the city to undertake in 2012 and beyond.
“We’ll be fine,” Commissioner Aron Cromwell said. “I had a number of people remind me that we can’t sit back and say we’re not raising taxes when we’re raising water and sewer rates. It all feels the same.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.