Archive for Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Commission approves increase in water and sewer rates; city on path to build $64M sewage treatment plant

March 12, 2013


The city of Lawrence has officially embarked on one of the larger projects in its history — a new $64 million sewage treatment plant — and Lawrence residents soon will discover that the bill for it and a host of other projects is in the mail.

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously agreed to approve new water and sewer rates that will increase the monthly bill of an average household by about 6 percent, but sets the city on a path to complete more than $160 million worth of utility improvements that staff members say are badly needed before 2017.

“This plan is very important for the community not only this year, but really for the decades to come,” City Manager David Corliss told commissioners.

The largest project staff members will begin working on is a new sewage treatment plant that will be constructed on city-owned ground south of the Wakarusa River, just south of where O’Connell Road meets the river.

The project will create a second sewage treatment plant for the city. The plant is designed partly to provide the community the ability to accommodate more growth in coming decades, but also is needed to take pressure off of the city’s current treatment plant during wet weather events. The city’s current plant is drawing scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency on how it functions during heavy rains.

City officials hope to hire the necessary engineers to begin designing the project this year. Design work is expected to last until late 2014, when construction will begin. The plant is expected to open by 2018.

The project, though, will take more than just a 6 percent increase of water and sewer bills this year. Technically, commissioners on Tuesday approved a multiyear plan that calls for similar rate increases each year through 2017. But future commissions will have to approve those increases before they take effect.

The higher rates for 2013 will start showing up on bills in coming weeks. The city estimates the average household that uses 4,000 gallons of water per month would see its monthly water/sewer bill rise to $50.51 per month in 2013, up from $47.64 per month currently.

No one from the public spoke either for or against the rate increases. But the room was full of private engineers who were on hand to watch the city open the door on more than $160 million worth of infrastructure projects in the city.

The 2013 rates are scheduled to fund about $37 million in water and sewer projects, including a new water intake for the aging Kaw Water Treatment plant, replacement of water tanks on Mount Oread, and a new water transmission line across the Kansas River to North Lawrence.

The remaining $125 million worth of projects — including $19 million to address taste and odor issues with the drinking water — are planned for years 2014 through 2017, and will require future City Commissions following through on rate increases to fund the projects.

Mayor Bob Schumm said he thought it would be unwise for the city to wait any longer to address the significant utility needs. He said several projects — completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the Farmland industrial park, the new recreation center and others — would spur growth in the next decade.

“For us to not take the challenge and move this forward where we can accommodate the growth, would be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Schumm said.

Other commissioners agreed. City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone commissioner running for re-election, said he thought parts of the city’s utility system were at risk of failure if work wasn’t undertaken.

“These are basic, core services that we’re talking about here,” Amyx said.


Carol Bowen 1 year, 1 month ago

Regardless of which revenue source, my dollar is having trouble stretching or splitting. I understand the financing for different projects, but I will have to pay for all of them.


cowboy 1 year, 1 month ago

Lived here 30 years and the rates go up every year only the reason changes. Multiple millions are siphoned off each year to subsidize inefficient government at city hall. One would think that in 30 years someone would have had a single idea how to become more efficient.

I looked thru the city budget yesterday. Every revenue stream is at an all time high and still this city cannot get enough. City management staff are knocking down some significant salaries , living the good life , and delivering very little to the citizens of Lawrence.

While subsidizing every yahoo group in town , delivering efficient basic core services seems to escape this group. The commission has been of little use as they have never seen a proposal the didn't like and more recently have become cheerleaders for thier own pet projects which seems a conflict to me.

Finally I can't wait to see the new sewer plant under water as they are putting it in an active flood plain draining directly into the Wakarusa. Brilliant !


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 1 month ago

Fees on properties that will benefit? That would be RCP and everything west and south of 15th, even Menards. It's all downhill from the west and it will go to Prairie Park, the jail, the homeless shelter.

Prairie Park is the "new" East Lawrece!


Liberal 1 year, 1 month ago

The plant should be paid for with excise fees on properties that will benefit from the new plant or in other words new growth should pay for itself.

It is clear however that the current system does not support the growth that has already occurred so sharing part of that cost is ok. However this article says that it is going to require more increases until 2017 and that is not acceptable.


Phoghorn 1 year, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the sewage agreement


FlintlockRifle 1 year, 1 month ago

Do you live close to Sir Bobby???


bangaranggerg 1 year, 1 month ago

My sewer and water bill is like $200 a month.. how could it possibly go up more?! Can I come over to someone else's house to bathe from now on?


usesomesense 1 year, 1 month ago

The sewer and water treatment plants have had massive increases over the years, both in rate increases and due to population and housing increases. Has anybody at the city really evaluated how that additional revenue has been spent over the last 20 years before handing over a big check to build what should have already been paid for? Unlikely. The first step before authorization of spending should always be to evaluate current expenditures: How much are employees making? How are those employees performing at their job? Is their job really necessary? What technology changes/improvements can reduce operating costs? How many people are twiddling their thumbs on a regular basis? Could some functions be outsourced to private contractors more cost effectively and efficiently? How many city vehicles are really required for the true job related travel? Would it be more cost effective to eliminate some vehicles and reimburse travel to employees using their own vehicles? (Vehicles were quite the scandal a few years ago - which tells me the city owns too many.)

Businesses do this all the time because it makes sense. Governmental bodies don't because the don't have to. If the funds aren't there they just take them from taxpayers.

I agree we need improvements and maintenance of these facilities. I just don't agree that we haven't already paid for them and the city owes them to us - not the other way around.


headdoctor 1 year, 1 month ago

Finally, they are going to build another sewer plant that should have been built or at least started over 20 years ago. The old system needed expansion and updates and still needs some ongoing pipe repair or replacement. It will be nice if they can get all this done so 15 to 20 percent of the town's sanitary sewer system doesn't fail with just a little rain fall.


traveler12 1 year, 1 month ago

And it's time to get rid of the fluoride in the water, yes?


Hoots 1 year, 1 month ago

Keep in mind some of the upgrades are due to federal mandates which the city has no power over. Rock Chalk Park is another story. The city mandates you pay for that whether you like it or not. I'm on the not list.


Paul Silkiner 1 year, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


mikekt 1 year, 1 month ago

Free water for the REC Center Developers and their Rec.Center site .....forever ?.........not a bright idea ! Let's divide that bill, by the number of City Commissioners, ....and send part of it, to each of them,...... forever ( without a vote on it ) !


toe 1 year, 1 month ago

Biggest sewer plant in town is sitting at the North end of Mass street.


mikekt 1 year, 1 month ago

Of course, ...I think that we should buy all of those REC Center fans, a new limo each, to go along with their expensive Feeding Habits, at the public feeding trough..........NOT !!!

And now for a toast to : future construction cost over runs at the public expense, future Mega-Events that go elsewhere, as they weren't supposed to,....and an issue that the voters should have voted on that doesn't fit well into the day to day operations of a city,...... like fire, water, police, trash, parks,..... that fit much better into the area of responsibility of a City Commission, that are a public trust .


gccs14r 1 year, 1 month ago

I agree with rebuilding the Kaw water intake, improving the existing water and sewer lines, and doing a better job of separating sanitary and stormwater systems to keep the existing plant from being overwhelmed during storms, but there is not a demonstrable need to build a second sewage treatment plant. And we haven't yet finished paying for the improvements to the Clinton freshwater treatment plant, which is soon to have competition for customers from other plants, so I'm not too keen to have my already-high water bill go up more than it has to. AND the city has been diverting water department funds to other projects, so we shouldn't have to have an increase at all.


mikekt 1 year, 1 month ago

I am resigned to the idea that there is no such thing as the tooth fairy,....that if Saint Nicholas ever lived, that it wasn't in 2013,....... & that he didn't give away new sewage treatment plants or replace aging municipal water pipes as a gift to the good public of his time .

We live in a time where there exist a collective disconnect.... between most of our to how our expensive water and sewer treatment systems that we take for granted daily came to be .

None of us can remember the days before 1911, or so, when chlorination came to be the expected public water supply health standard & people started drinking safely from systems that were originally only fit for fire service, animal watering or boiling on a stove, if you knew enough to do that ( and that early chlorinated water was still full of fine suspended unfiltered sediments in river supplied systems, of who only knows what ? ).

People drank from local wells .

Local wells that became polluted with human and animal run off ( do-do ) and the drinkers there of became sick for their own thirst, with water born diseases .

No doubt, some died from drinking the water back then . It just happened . Others survived their illnesses .

Like it or not, without safe water and sewer systems, some of us would have die young .

If you have ever been bitten by a spider, stung by a wasp or bee, bitten by a dog, scratched on the face by a cat ( that lost it ) or lived thru totaling a car or some unpleasant life experience, you have probably have figured out that stuff happens !

Somebody else built and paid for a large parts of the water and sewer systems of LAWRENCE KS,....... for us..

What's happening now, is that we have to fix the aging or disfunctional parts of those systems that we have inherited,, so that some person fifty years from now can assume that it all just appeared for them, ....for free,..... to use and abuse, as they so wish, we have done before them .

To me, there is little that is political about being able to flush a toilet .

The cost for this whole thing is a "stinger".........but the City Commissioners did the best thing that they could in this situation, for the city of Lawrence, as it is,.....and for generations to come . I hope that future City Commissions stay the course and that the public holds them to account and keeps them out of water and sewer revenues, till this thing is done and over with......which like a car, is never going to run forever without upkeep and repair costs.


1yardstare 1 year, 1 month ago

Schumm and the other city commissioners voted last week to give Fritzel $500,000 - $700,000 worth of water a year for free to water the landscaping, soccer field, and track field at Rock Chalk Park. Fritzel is leasing the stadiums to KU, KU is paying Fritzel $1,300,000 a year, they will only use the track 3-4 times a year, soccer about 16 times a year, Fritzel can use the stadiums and fields for free anytime KU isn't using them. Fritzel will make millions of dollars a year hosting events in those stadiums on those fields. Why would the city agree to supply the water to Fritzel for free. It's a private business receiving free water from the City.

Why? Everyone should ask Schumm, Dever, Carter, and Cromwell every time you see them.....why? Ask Corliss, why?

Fyi.... Fritzel is not paying any developments fees usually collected by the City, Fritzel received 100% real estate tax abatement, sales tax relief on all materials thats another $1,000,000 in savings, Fritzel is being paid $925,000 for the architectural drawing for the rec center drawn by an architect Fritzel chose not the City. Ask them why?


Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

The housing boom died in 2007 and took the economy with it. It is still costing taxpayers their jobs,retirement plans and medical insurance.

The housing boom we do not want again for no one can afford the runaway inflation that brought people owing more on their homes than market value will bring to real life. More and more new residential will do nothing to restore property fact quite the opposite.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

The more the city expands it's borders the more it cost to maintain. If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, Lawrence would never be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of residential you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential does not pay for the services they require from a municipality.

Thus more and more cost of living increases aka endless tax increases.

The one hidden cost of growth is more and more crime = big tax increases yet does not stop crime.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

So many of the issues that should be put before the voters are not.

The increases in cost of preparing for new growth never stop. Whether the growth takes place or not.


Rachael Sudlow 1 year, 1 month ago

I could get behind this far more than Rock Chalk Park. Cant we learn to spend our money wisely in this town?

but while we're signing ourselves up for more & more projects, lets take bets on how long before they start asking for the new jail, or more handouts to dougy compton, or repaving the yellow brick road to the arts district or just building a new school. The library is barely started & we're already talking about more.


Patricia Davis 1 year, 1 month ago

“These are basic, core services that we’re talking about here,” Amyx said.

Jayhawk Park is not.


JohnSickels 1 year, 1 month ago

Sounds like socialism to me. Where is Dave Trabert with his free market solutions?

If the city really needed a water plant, it would build itself. (sarcasm)


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