Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Water, sewer upgrades would tap wallets

February 12, 2013


Leaky pipes and a growing city may end up costing the average Lawrence homeowner about $500 in extra water and sewer bills over the next five years.

Lawrence city commissioners got the full pitch Tuesday afternoon for why water and sewer rates ought to rise to fix aging pipes and to build a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners didn’t agree to any new rates, but kept the issue of a rate increase alive by asking staff members to bring back additional information in the coming weeks.

“We have some facilities that are just worn out, or out of space,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.

Two large projects stand out in the plan proposed by city staff members: construction of a $54.7 million sewage treatment plant along the Wakarusa River south of Lawrence; and $19.4 million to fix deteriorating sewer pipes.

Work on the second sewage treatment plant would begin immediately in order for the plant to be operational in the next five years. Work on the sewer line project would take place over the next eight years, and the city proposes a host of other maintenance projects.

But commissioners were told Tuesday the projects can’t happen without a significant increase in rates. City officials are estimating the recommended plan will cause the average summer water bill for an average household to increase by about 6.5 percent, or about $4.40 per month.

Staff members, though, told commissioners rate increases will be needed in each of the next five years to pay for the program. The city estimates an average 4,000-gallon-per-month water user would see the average monthly water bill increase by $13.66 per month at the end of the five year period. During the course of the five-year period, the city estimates such a household would pay an extra $453 for water and sewer compared to if the rates did not change.

City staff members told commissioners there were risks if the city didn’t make the improvements, particularly the sewage treatment plant.

City Manager David Corliss said the sewage treatment plant — which would be built just south of the Wakarusa River, roughly across the river from where O’Connell Road dead ends — would meet three important needs: It would give the city greater capacity to handle wet weather storm flows that come through the plant; it would relieve a bottleneck of sewage that accumulates in holding basins and pipes in the 31st Street corridor; and it would give the city more capacity to add homes and businesses in future years.

“If we grow our population by 1.5 percent per year, we believe we’ll be out of capacity by the end of the decade,” Corliss said.

Corliss also told commissioners there was a risk in waiting too long to start work on a new treatment plant because it likely will take five years to design and build the project.

City commissioners were presented with the rate scenarios and service warnings last year, but commissioners thus far have been reluctant to commit to a rate increase.

Commissioners have struggled with the idea of how much the city has been growing. During the last decade, the Census Bureau found the city grew by less than 1 percent per year, but some city planning estimates have contended the growth rate was higher.

On Tuesday, commissioners asked staff members for more information about how much of the projected costs of the proposed plan are related to addressing existing conditions versus those related to accommodating new growth.

Commissioners also will need to decide whether they want to try to add equipment that would address occasional taste and odor issues that arise in the city’s drinking water when algae levels are high at Clinton Lake or the Kansas River.

The necessary equipment— estimated at about $18 million — isn’t included in the staff’s recommended plan. But Corliss said it could easily be added to the plan if a future study shows it would be effective.

But the additions would require additional rate increases. If the taste and odor equipment is added to staff’s recommended plan the total increase in water and sewer bills over a five year period would be about $520 for an average home.

Schumm said he would like the current City Commission to deal with the water and sewer rate issue before the upcoming city elections in April.

“It will be up for debate sometime in March, I believe,” Schumm said.


ljreader 1 year, 2 months ago

How many millions of dollars of expenditures have been announced by the City in just the past week? Before they're through with us our mortgage payments will be cheaper than our water bills. At least this is something that is needed. Unlike mandatory recycling fees, retiree studies, rec centers, new library, cultural districts, and the likes.


bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

and, the constant push to increase our bills wears pretty thin on those of us with small incomes.

to hear city staff sometimes, it seems they think city residents' wallets are an unlimited resource, bottomless.

I agree with the poster above: I should be able to opt out* of the recycling charge.


bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

Lawrence city commissioners got the full pitch Tuesday afternoon for why water and sewer rates ought to rise to fix aging pipes and to build a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners didn’t agree to any new rates, but kept the issue of a rate increase alive by asking staff members to bring back additional information in the coming weeks.

“We have some facilities that are just worn out, or out of space,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.


if there are '94-tax dollars available to build the NWrec center/sports village combo, run it at a loss to the city, then that mney could certainly instead be used to take care of more pressing needs like these!!!

stop raising the city water/sewer/trash bill. it seems like every time I watch a city commish meeting there's a new proposal to prop up that bill once again, and yet once again still more!!!

stop it! this city is wasting money, throwing it away. meanwhile, our pipes leak, rust, and our sewers decay. our roads are 1/5th broken. and that's an improvement.

oh yeah, we really need that high dollar northwest thingy, we just might not be able to put water in its toilets or flush them when they're used!


pizzapete 1 year, 2 months ago

Unlike the recreation center, at least they're being honest in this case about needing to raise taxes and fees to pay for it. They'd like to have us believe that we don't have to worry about a property tax increase to pay for the new 25 million recreation center, the 75 million worth of new roads, street lights, and sewers it'll need or the added maintenance costs it will bring. According to our city commission we have all the money we need right now for the recreation center because we haven't had to spend that money to improve or even maintain our existing roads, sewers, police stations, and the like. So, all that money we saved in the past can now be used to pay the 100 million the recreation center will cost us without a property or sales tax increase. When something like existing sewers or a police station come up, well sure, I guess that's when we'll raise property taxes, sales taxes, and other fees, but not for the recreation center, rest assured we've already got that paid for.


bigmike 1 year, 2 months ago

Make the people that water their lawns pay for it, and leave us poor folks alone!


Bob Forer 1 year, 2 months ago

Mark my words. Just as the current city commission is in a rush to push through the rec center before the new commission takes office, they will sit on this issue and pawn off the dirty job of raising water rates on the new commission.


50YearResident 1 year, 2 months ago

Fix what is really in need of repair, that is the Commissioner form of City Government. How can a city as big as Lawrence opperate efficiently when they change Commissioners every 2 to 4 years and the Mayor every year? They all have an agenda they want to install and then they are out again with no repercussions for what the did or didn't do while serving. We have no long term people that are responsible for keeping the books out of the red.


Caz Snwot 1 year, 2 months ago

Out of all the ideas to "improve" this town I have to say this is the one I prefer the most. I don't much care for a sports center, a retirement village, a new library, a new police station, or a a "no tax" plan to improve our schools.... but if I have to pay a few dollars extra for my water so that the pipes can be improved and we can have a more modern sewage system, I'm for it. Most of our countries infrastructure is collapsing. We're living in a world that hasn't seen real improvement since the 1950's. So, if the city council wants to charge a little more for water and sewage to improve the plant I can handle that.


Centerville 1 year, 2 months ago

If we're each going to pay an extra $500 for something necessary, let's make it optional to pay another $240 for curbside recycling.


reality_check79 1 year, 2 months ago

How can people support tax dollars to repair bike lanes but ignore the water issue??? 4 dollars or 13 more dollars a month to make sure the old outdated system gets fixed seems pretty reasonable... The alternative could be to wait until water mains break and then listen to people complain then...


Charles L Bloss Jr 1 year, 2 months ago

A great way to attract retirees living on a fixed income !!


toe 1 year, 2 months ago

The city may not have any water to treat. Clinton is draining, the river is drying up. I wonder when Lawrence will start asking for higher taxes to make it rain.


cowboy 1 year, 2 months ago

The annual shell game of where did the revenue go to begins. The city transfers millions from water revenue to pay for City Hall admin costs. I'd like to see 10 year audit of what they said the increases were for versus where they actually went. Were getting 6% increases every year since i can remember and have the same facilities.

Cap the sewer charges and tie them to actual usage. If there was an advantage to the city they would have done this already. That tells me real quick that the current method is advantage city or a loss for the ratepayer.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

In essence the retail dollars are simply NOT available. Why do city officials not understand that without the necessary supply of retail dollars new retail will simply become a liability to local taxpayers? It cannot be more than it is.

The Lawrence KU population is gone 90-120 days a year which puts Lawrence at about a 65,000 population. Still a small town pretending to be KCMO/JOCO.


jafs 1 year, 2 months ago

Is the average water use for a single person really 4,000 gallons/month? Sounds outrageously high to me.

We have all the modern conveniences, dishwasher, washer, etc. and we use less than a third of that, by using water saving shower-heads and faucet aerators, combined with appliances that don't use a ton of water.

And, of course, we don't water our yard unless absolutely necessary.

I wonder if people were given the choice between voluntary conserving water use, and paying more for these upgrades, which they would choose?


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

"Leaky pipes and a growing city may end up costing the average Lawrence homeowner about $500 in extra water and sewer bills over the next five years."

Another tax increase ..... only $12.25 per month for the next five years. In addition to other new rate/tax increases along the way. Plus all of the others we've had in the past 20 years. Yet it is packaged and delivered as if none had ever taken place.


Paul R Getto 1 year, 2 months ago

Everyone wants to poop and they want it to go away. Have to pay the price.


Pork_Ribs 1 year, 2 months ago

Get this...I have a little over five acres most of which is timber. I wanted to install a well strictly for watering of landscape and/or yard. The Douglas County health department will not let me drill a well. They say they're not even letting larger acreage get permits either. We are about 5 miles south and west of Target. So...last summer, when even drought resistant plants were stressed, I had to use treated water from RWD 5. So, if any of you know anyone who will drill a well without a permit, feel free to give them my e-mail for a job.


TheBigW 1 year, 2 months ago

We don't need all that stuff, water plant, ha.... no we need to fund the rock chalk park project... and a retirement village! Old people don't need to worry about sewage plants, heck they all use depends.....


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Draining Wallets

Reckless planning is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes. Why does city government protect the real estate industry instead of taxpayers? It's OUR money.

Reckless planning has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods and forcing us to drive gridlocked roads for every chore. But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - developers are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Reckless growth is the result of over four decades of subsidies paid for by the American taxpayer. The subsidies range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects-like the billions we spend on new roads as well as smaller ones-like the tax-breaks that encourage businesses to move to the edge of town thus killing the downtown business district.

We've subsidized reckless planning at such a basic level for so long, that many taxpayers believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of reckless planning sponsored by the development executives.

Reckless growth definitely wastes our tax money. It pulls economic resources away from the downtown business district and spreads them out over sparse developments away from the core. This is economic displacement which prevents solid and consistent economic growth.

Taxes subsidize millions of dollars worth of new roads, new water and sewer lines, new schools and increased police and fire protection at the expense of the needs of the core business district. This leads to degradation of our older neighborhoods and higher taxes.

Again why does city government protect the real estate industry instead of taxpayers? It's OUR money.


LadyJ 1 year, 2 months ago

Now here is what I would like to see. The figures on how many people have their water turned off every month for nonpayment of their bill.


Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 2 months ago

This fits right in with the Journal-World's recent editorial on the Ogallala reservoir, and the need to use less water.

Where is the emphasis in the city council and elsewhere on the need to grow drought-resistant plants, plant less grass, use less water?

Aging pipes I can understand, but if we really took into effect drought-resistant plants - and limited the amount of grass people could have throughout the city - would we really need a second water plant?


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