At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, the water department asked for permission to add $1.00 per month to water bills. It’s actually a $2.00 per month proposed increase, as $1.00 would be added to both the water charge and the sewer charge, and most people have both services.
It’s estimated that this charge would bring in $270,000 per month, or about $3,240,000 per year.
The problem is that with the rainy weather for the past year or more, water usage is down. The water department would like to “guarantee a revenue stream not affected by weather conditions.” This is at a time when the water department is undertaking some expensive capital improvement programs, including an aquifer recharge program.
In answering a question, Kristi Irick, customer service manager for the water department, said “If we have a nice dry summer, like we’re hoping for …” This illustrates a conflict of interest: the water department wants revenue, but water customers don’t want to pay a lot to water their lawns. It seems that everyone except the water department views rainfall in the Kansas summer as a blessing.
One citizen said that in light of the federal government recently spending “$700 billion [sic] just to give jobs back to people so they can make a living,” not considering this proposed increase is “petty.” He suggested an additional $1.00 per month increase so that the city could train people and give them jobs in water efficiency. He also suggested a rebate program for those who who are “truly suffering and have done everything they can” to use water wisely.
His suggestion for an even steeper rate increase was met with a chuckle from the audience.
In general, council members and the mayor expressed concern over the proposed increase. The competitiveness of Wichita versus other cities was mentioned, as was the large number of recently laid-off workers in Wichita.
Council member Paul Gray said that “we have a process of revenue generation that is counterproductive to conservation.” The need for a water rate increase, he said, is that use is down. He wants to find an alternative way of paying for the aquifer recharge project, an idea supported by other council members.
In the end, the council deferred action, wanting to wait for methods of alternative funding to be discovered.
We should be glad that Wichita water and sewer rates are low. That’s a blessing, not a problem.
The concern of the council over water and sewer rates, while welcome, is a little misplaced. Concern for the citizens of Wichita is a factor in some types of spending, but not for others. As an example, earlier in the meeting the council approved a grant of $20,000 to a private business in Wichita to help them upgrade the facade of their building. A cynic might say the city just increased the profit of a private business by $20,000, all at the expense of taxpayers if Wichita.
Or, the city spends some $2,000,000 per year subsidizing arts in Wichita. That’s a burden to the finances of many homes in Wichita, just as an increase in water rates is.
Even worse, our electric utility has been increasing its rates by amounts much larger than this proposed water increase. A large reason for this request is the expense of wind power. I imagine a number of city council members support wind power and renewable energy.
It seems there there is momentum towards paying for the aquifer recharge project is a way other than through water bills. If this happens, it will isolate to some degree the cost of the city’s water system from the level that people make use of it.