Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2007

Proposed changes could increase wastewater rates

August 16, 2007

If a proposed ordinance meets the Lansing City Council's approval tonight, many Lansing residents will see a gradual increase in how much they pay for wastewater service in the coming years.

In a work session held Thursday, Aug. 9, the council reviewed proposed rate increases that Mayor Ken Bernard said would help service the debt incurred from past improvements to the wastewater system, provide funds for future growth projects and, in general, make the wastewater system "a self-supporting utility."

Currently a property with zero to six wastewater units is charged a flat fee of $17 per month plus $2.35 for each additional unit, City Clerk Sunshine Petrone said.

Under the proposed ordinance, all customers would pay a $12 base charge, plus $2 per unit in 2007 and 2008, and then a 25 cent increase for each year until 2013.

For a six-unit building, what Bernard said was the average in Lansing, that's an increase of $7 per month in 2008 and more than double the monthly cost by 2013. A two-unit building, though, would see a reduction of $1 next year.

Connection fees for new development would also increase under the proposed ordinance. Residential connections would rise from $1,500 currently to $2,500; retail connections would jump to $3,000 from $1,900; and industrial connections would rise from $2,100 to $4,000.

A project team consisting of Lansing officials and consultants with Professional Engineering Consultants, P.A. of Topeka, determined the proposed rate increases.

Bernard emphasized that consideration was taken for Lansing's elderly residents.

"We want to make sure we don't burden the senior citizen population," Bernard said, noting that residents 65 and older would only pay for three units for new accounts until a winter usage average was established.

Bernard said one of the main reasons for the rate increase is that the city is looking for more ways to service the debt on $16 million upgrades made to Lansing's wastewater system in 2005. The city is subsidizing about 8.3 mills for the utility out of the general fund, Lansing Finance Director William Lundberg said.

"After a period (of 5 years) the wastewater utility will become self-sufficient," Lundberg said. "This rate study gets us to that point."

Bernard said that increased funds could also go toward funding future projects such as adding new interceptors to the city's wastewater system.

Another question is whether the Lansing Correctional Facility is subject to the rate increases.

LCF's last increase was in 2002, Bernard said, adding, "If there are no increases for them, the rate increases will be much higher : in other cities, they pay the standard rate for the community."

Councilman Harland Russell raised several questions about the proposed ordinance, including whether extra strength surcharges would be assessed to heavier users and if the city was prepared to deal with people that don't pay their bill.

Petrone said that, now, if an individual doesn't pay, the charge will be included in assessments sent to the county. In the case of multi-family housing, a landlord is reported to the state and can be dealt with through the court system.

"We want to give the impression that it's not a free ride," Lansing City Administrator Mike Smith said. "If you don't pay, the attorney's office will come to recoup the money."

Russell also asked how future drinking water rates would affect wastewater user rates, expressed concern at LanDel's aging infrastructure and asked, in general, what long-term plans the city had for its utilities.

LanDel is one of two of the two drinking water suppliers to Lansing residents.

"At what point does it make sense for us to jointly provide water, trash and other services to (city residents)?" Russell asked.

Councilman Kenneth Ketchum added, "My only concern is we keep raising funds from people, but taxes, in reality, are not going down."

When asked his opinion, Wastewater Utility Director Tony Zell Jr. said, "I'm very happy with this plan. I think this is the way to go. It provides for what we need to do in the future."

The city council will vote on the proposed ordinance tonight in a public meeting starting at 7 p.m. at Lansing City Hall.

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