Sewer rate vote means 40 percent hike for residents
In finding a solution to the city’s sewer rate problem, the Basehor City Council opted for the Band-Aid approach: just rip it off and get the pain over with quickly.
The council voted, 4-1, this past week to increase sewer rates for Basehor residents by about 40 percent, a plan that will trade an initial shock to residents’ bills for long-term stability for the city’s sewer system and lower costs for residents in the long term, according to city staff projections.
Council member Iris Dysart opposed the plan.
Sewer rates will increase from $7.56 per 1,000 gallons to $10.61, which would cause estimated average monthly bills to jump from about $35 per month to about $49, according to city figures.
The plan was recommended by city administrator Mark Loughry and championed by council member David Breuer, who after initial resistance earlier this month found enough support from other members at the Dec. 20 meeting for the measure to pass.
“I think that the 40-percent plan, with the least amount of increases from then on, is the best plan for the long term of our sewer system,” Breuer said at the meeting.
After the 40-percent increase in 2011, the measure also calls for automatic annual 2.5-percent increases beginning in 2012.
Loughry explained to the council during its work session earlier this month that a number of factors had combined to require a significant increase in sewer fees during the next two to three years in order to keep up with the debt owed to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The housing slowdown, lower water use due to more efficient appliances and the reluctance of past city councils to raise fees had all contributed to declining sewer revenues for the city.
Mayor Terry Hill said last week that past councils were slow to raise the fees because they believed the city would continue to grow steadily, providing more sewer connections as houses were built. The housing slowdown of the past several years threw a wrench in that plan.
“The dream was, the population, the additional houses, would fund it,” Hill said.
If the city did not raise rates for 2011, Loughry said, the state may have forced it to raise them significantly in 2012, by as much as 50 percent.
The council members who supported the 40-percent plan noted that it would save residents money over the next several years compared to a more gradual increase. Member Bill Moyer, who had been hesitant to support a steep initial increase earlier in the month, said this realization made him support the 40-percent plan.
“I kind of had a change of heart on this,” Moyer said.
Dysart, arguing for a smaller rate increase for 2011, said a 40 percent rate hike was too much to spring on residents in a harsh economic climate, especially when combined with a $4 increase in trash service fees that the council approved earlier in the meeting.
“The users of these utilities are going to really get slammed,” Dysart said. “I cannot vote for 40 percent.”
Breuer said he supported the steep 2011 increase also because it would allow the city to build up a reserve sewer fund for capital improvements and any emergency repairs that may spring up.
Loughry told the council earlier this month that the city lacked enough cash reserves in the sewer fund to address any emergency costing a few thousand dollars or more, and some of the city’s sewer lines had deteriorated so much in spots that the only thing containing the flow of sewage was the clay packed around where a pipe once was.
The council also voted, 4-1, to keep the city’s sewer connection fee at $3,450. A 2008 ordinance had called for the fee to increase by $250 each year, but Loughry said the rate was already one of the highest in the region.
Council member Jim Washington opposed this measure, saying he would prefer to suspend the $250 increase for just three years, rather than leaving the suspension of the increase open-ended.
Also at the meeting last week, the council:
• Voted to renew the city’s waste collection contract with Deffenbaugh Industries, which will institute a cart-based trash pickup system allowing for curbside recycling (see story on page 3).
• Renewed, 5-0, the city’s audit services contract with Lowenthal, Webb & Odermann for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
• Approved, 5-0, a resolution pledging support for the Kansas PRIDE program, which allows the Basehor PRIDE chapter to keep its charter from the state organization.
• Approved, 5-0, an agreement with Leavenworth County for court and probation services for 2011.
• Approved, 5-0, a non-budgeted $1,000 contribution to Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services.
• Authorized, 5-0, city staff to change the Sewer District No. 3 interlocal agreement to allow residents to pay the in-city sewer connection fee of $3,450, plus a $78 upsize charge, with the approval of the city attorney. Washington opposed.