Police and fire protection. Streets. Water supplies and sewer infrastructure. It’s hard to argue that those are essential services the city is expected to provide.
The city staff recommends more than $74 million in expenditures — to be paid off at the clip of around $90 a year per home in Lawrence — for water and sewer improvements and repairs, including $54.7 million for the long-discussed new wastewater treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.
For several reasons, unpalatable as the higher fees may be, it probably is time to face up to the situation and proceed.
Part of the circumstances no doubt can be laid at the feet of previous commissions and staff, which ducked and deferred justifiable water and sewer line maintenance and improvements over the years. Now those needs, estimated at $19.4 million, can no longer be ignored.
Commissions also put off construction of the sewer plant as they watched the city’s growth and hemmed and hawed over the timing of bringing additional capacity on line. It’s no longer a question of whether, but when, and that time is coming.
Also at issue is an unresolved situation with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which asserts that the city has illegal sewage discharges into the Kansas River during heavy rainstorms. Although the city disputes the contention, the proposed additional plant would address that situation while providing the capacity for residential and business growth in Lawrence.
The expenditures recommended by the staff also would replace two water tanks atop Mount Oread, extend a new water supply line across the Kaw into North Lawrence, and improve the troubled intake at the Kaw Water Treatment Plant.
Over a five-year period, the project is estimated to cost a household about $453 more than it would have paid in fees had the work not been initiated. Water and sewer fees would increase annually over the five years, with the average user’s fees at the end of the period estimated to be around $13.66 per month more than they are today.
That’s certainly not insignificant, but in the scheme of things, it’s probably a reasonable price to pay. It would not be prudent to continue to defer maintenance and improvements as has been done too often in the past. Let’s hope a lesson has been learned about the way our infrastructure is protected so that future residents won’t be faced with paying the price because matters were not addressed when they should have been.