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.


John Sickels 5 years, 2 months 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)

skull 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm sure a private monopoly on the water system would never raise rates...done in seconds.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 2 months ago

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

Jayhawk Park is not.

Currahee 5 years, 2 months ago

He was talking about water not the public projects...

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months 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.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months 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.

Currahee 5 years, 2 months ago

That's what the $50 million police HQ is for silly.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 2 months ago

So, by your logic, nobody should ever have kids because they are increased growth in a family that doesn't pay for themselves and are a drain on family finances. If our founding fathers thought like you Merrill, Lawrence wouldn't exist today.

Expanding services and growth shouldn't have to pay for itself, that is what taxes are for.

gatekeeper 5 years, 2 months ago

He isn't saying no one should ever have kids. He is correct though.

How about everyone limit the number of kids they have, thus only replacing themselves? Then we don't create need for additional residential needs.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months ago

Average family size is decreasing. More people do not marry, two career couples, . . . I wonder what the student counts are in the public schools and at KU compared to ten and twenty years ago.

Dan Matthews 5 years, 2 months ago

Merrill, you are contridicting yourself. You say a growing residential base cannot pay for itself. Not true. That's what property taxes, utility costs and etc. are for....

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months 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.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 2 months ago

If you think Fritzel is going to make "millions a year" hosting events, you are either typing your comments from a bar while drinking, or this is going to be the biggest attraction the city has and a huge win for every business in town.

gccs14r 5 years, 2 months 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.

Paul Silkiner 5 years, 2 months ago

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

skull 5 years, 2 months ago

Actually, spending your children's money started with the Bush era tax cuts chief.

Mike Hoffmann 5 years, 2 months ago

Do your children not drink water and use toilets?

Hoots 5 years, 2 months 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.

headdoctor 5 years, 2 months ago

You may be on the not like to pay for it list so I am guessing you are not living in a house that your basement gets sewage backed up in when the system fails. I am also going out on a limb and guess you are not one of the fine upstanding people who add to the failure problem by routing your sump pump directly into the sanitary sewer line. Maybe your house is just on a higher grade so you don't have a problem but everyone below you gets to deal with your sewage.

gatekeeper 5 years, 2 months ago

They didn't say anything negative about the upgrades to the existing system, which are mandated by the feds. Comment was that the Rock Chalk Park is being mandated by the city when it isn't necessary, unlike the sewer upgrades.

headdoctor 5 years, 2 months 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.

usesomesense 5 years, 2 months 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.

bangaranggerg 5 years, 2 months 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?

MarcoPogo 5 years, 2 months ago

Quit washing one pair of underwear at a time.

skull 5 years, 2 months ago

No need for underwear. I'm pretty sure most the brown comes from the mouth.

parrothead8 5 years, 2 months ago

Sure, no problem. I'll only charge you $1 per 10-minute shower. Hot water is extra.

Phoghorn 5 years, 2 months ago

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

cowboy 5 years, 2 months 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 !

Carol Bowen 5 years, 2 months 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.

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