Lawrence City Commission to consider water and utility rate increases

At their meeting Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners will consider water and other utility rate increases that will add about $65 annually to residents’ bills.

The rate increases are part of the city manager’s recommended budget, and utilities staff says the additional revenue is needed for the department to keep pace with costs.

“The utilities department is committed to providing high quality and responsive water and sewer services to the community and the proposed rates reflect the cost of providing and maintaining those services and the essential infrastructure,” said Beth Krishtalka, utilities director assistant.

Under the proposed rate increases, fees for solid waste, water, stormwater and sewer will increase, as well as service charges and surcharges. Combined, the increases amount to about a 6 percent increase over this year’s rates. Changes to customer charges are expected to bring in an additional $3 million for water and wastewater next year, according to the recommended budget.

Overall, the average customer’s utility bill will increase by $65 annually, according to the recommended budget. The city calculates average customer impact based on the use of 4,000 gallons of water per month.

Under the proposal, water rates for single-family residential customers will increase from $5.70 per 1,000 gallons to $6.10. For multifamily customers, the rate will increase from $3.72 to $4.17. Rates for commercial, industrial and irrigation are also proposed to increase.

Currently, multifamily, commercial and industrial customers pay lower irrigation rates than residential customers. Under the proposed changes, all customers would pay $6.10 per 1,000 gallons for irrigation.

Krishtalka said rate increases are based on factors such as capital needs, operations and maintenance costs, regulatory requirements, and infrastructure replacements and extensions.

“There’s a number of factors that go into that, both looking at costs now, costs in the future and looking at where we need to be to have sufficient revenues to provide and sustain the water and sewer services,” Krishtalka said.

In coming years, the city projects expenses in its water and wastewater fund will increase due to the upcoming startup and operation of the new Wakarusa River Wastewater Treatment Plant and required changes to the water treatment process. The $74 million sewer plant is scheduled to open next year. Overall, expenditures are projected to increase by $1.7 million next year, according to the 2017-2022 forecast in the recommended budget.

In November of 2016, the City Commission indicated it was supportive of rate increases that would penalize high water consumption. Krishtalka said it isn’t possible to put that type of rate structure in place using the city’s current customer billing software, but that plan will likely come before the commission again in 2018.

The rate increases are tied to the utility department’s five-year capital improvement plan. If adopted, the rate changes will go into effect in November.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.