LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
City to consider higher rates to fund project to combat taste and odor issues with drinking water; gun and knife laws to change in city; Corliss to receive raise
Pick your flavor: An occasional funky taste and odor in the city's drinking water or a water rate increase that will be 10 percent or more in some cases.
Tuesday night at City Hall could be dubbed "Taste and Odor Night," as commissioners are being asked to make some big decisions on whether to spend money and raise rates to address a taste and odor problem that sometimes occurs when algae levels spike in Clinton Lake and the Kansas River.
(It also was Taste and Odor night at my home last night. Today is Day 1 of summer vacation for my kids, and my 11-year old son had four of his friends over for a sleepover. On the taste front, they ate all my doughnuts. And a herd of 11-year old boys is going to create some odor issues.)
Commissioners will have an interesting choice in front of them. City officials now have a long-awaited report on addressing the taste and odor issues. But it seems like one big question remains: How certain are we that making these improvements will eliminate future taste and odor issues?
I haven't yet chatted with leaders in the city's Utilities Department about the findings, but the memo on the subject isn't crystal clear on that point. The report is recommending a phase I and a phase II solution. At the moment, commissioners are just being asked to implement phase I. If phase I doesn't work, then phase II would need to be implemented. Phase II would require even steeper increases in rates.
Already, the increases proposed for Phase I are significant. How significant? Well, it depends on who you are. Here's a look at some scenarios:
— A single-family residential resident who uses 6,000 gallons of water a month would see her bill increase to $32.27, up from $30.31 currently. That's an increase of 6.4 percent. If you use 20,000 gallons per month — perhaps you sprinkle your yard or have a herd of five 11-year olds who must frequently be hosed off — the percentage increase is about 6.7 percent.
— Someone who lives in an apartment complex actually will see a decline in the water bill, based on information included in the city memo. A multifamily user of 6,000 gallons will pay $22.55 compared with $23.23 today. No, I don't have an explanation for that decrease, but I will inquire.
— The owner of a commercial business will see the largest rate increase. A commercial user of 300,000 gallons per month will have a water bill of $1,207, up from $1,092 currently. That's an increase of 10.5 percent.
— An industrial user of 2,500,000 gallons will have a water bill of 8,498, up from $7,872. That's an increase of 7.9 percent.
Larger increases could be on the way, if city officials decide that the projects in phase I aren't fixing the problem. The phase II improvements — which would include things such as ozone oxidation and ultraviolet/hydrogen peroxide treatment systems — would raise rates by 11 percent to 15.4 percent, depending on your usage category.
How likely is it that phase I improvements will take care of the problem? I'll work to talk to some of the experts on that today. The city memo states the phase I improvements are expected to effectively treat the "historic levels" of taste and odor compounds.
But the memo also states: "Presently, algal bloom events related to the generation of geosmin, MIB and/or algal toxins are not well understood."
Given that, it is unclear whether the "historic levels" of taste and odor compounds are what we should expect in the future. It also is unclear how often we should expect Clinton Lake or the Kansas River to have algae spikes that result in taste and odor problems. The city memo notes that the last such incident was in June 2012.
The sporadic nature of these outbreaks may make it more difficult for commissioners to determine how much to spend on the problem. If the issue were deemed to be a health hazard, that would be a major consideration, but currently city officials say the algae don't pose a health hazard to humans.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence City Hall may need to get a bigger door. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday may decide whether to add another gun-related sticker to the front door of City Hall and other public buildings.
The city already has signs prohibiting licensed concealed carry holders from bringing their firearms into the building. But now city staff is asking the commission to consider putting a sign that prohibits the open carrying of firearms into City Hall and other buildings. In other words, a sign making it clear that someone can't carry a handgun on their hip, Old West style.
Changes in state gun laws now give the city the option of placing a sign on city buildings prohibiting the open carrying of firearms into such facilities.
The law, though, removes the city's ability to regulate firearms and knives in many other ways. A city memo states the commission will need to repeal two laws to be in conformity with the new state regulations. One is a city law that made it illegal to carry in the city limits a "dagger, dirk, billy, blackjack, slungshot, danger knife, straight-edged razor, stiletto or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument of like character." The change in state law makes it illegal to carry such items only if it can be proven that they are being carried "with the intent to use" such weapons.
The second city ordinance up for repeal involves the carrying of concealed firearms "in drinking establishments or on publicly accessible property in close proximity to the premises of any drinking establishment." My understanding, however, is that concealed carry licensees can still be prohibited from bringing their firearms into an establishment. But such prohibition will require the bar's owner to make a decision to post the no guns sign at the business' entrances.
• City Manager David Corliss is set to get a raise on Tuesday. As we previously reported, Corliss received good marks from city commissioners during his annual performance review a few weeks ago. But commissioners at that time did not make any announcements about Corliss' salary.
On Tuesday's consent agenda, commissioners are asked to approve a new contract for Corliss that increases his annual salary to $145,000 a year, up from $140,000 currently. That's a 3.5 percent pay increase. The contract also calls for the city contribution to Corliss' retirement plan to increase to $23,000 per year, up from $19,000 currently. That's a 21 percent increase, although if you figure it as a percentage of his salary, the increase is quite a bit less. At $23,000 per year, the city is contributing an amount equal to 15.8 percent of Corliss' $145,000 salary to the retirement fund. Under the current contract, the city is contributing 13.5 percent. If you look at the total compensation package, it represents a 5.6 percent increase.