Wichita City Council approves water-rate hike for water-treatment plant project

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Update Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 3, 2019

The Wichita City Council at its meeting Tuesday moved into Phase 2 of a new water treatment plant for the city. The second phase includes design completion and construction.

The council voted to continue contracting with Wichita Water Partners for Phase II and to raise water rates to help cover the cost of the approximate $494 million project.

Tuesday, there weren't many gathered at the Wichita City Council meeting, but some did speak up, hoping the council would vote against raising water bills next year.

The 5-percent increase the council unanimously approved comes out to an increase of anywhere from $2 to $7 per month.

"Rate increases suck, but I would like $5 (instead of) $12,"Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson says. "I would love if lower-income people didn't have to pay that, but we are now at 5 percent."

Wichita resident Doug Ballard says if the city saw a 5 percent increase every year, a typical residential water bill would about double after 12 years.

Resident Sybil Strum says the 5 percent is enough for her to be impacted.

"It will affect be a lot because I'm on a low income," she says. "So, I might not be able to buy groceries. I might not be able to buy clothes, and I already pay enough as it is."

To help avoid the impact on people's water bills, Wichita Assistant Public Works Director Don Henry says the city opted to use a mix of federal and state loans to keep rates at a minimum .

Wichita City Council member Bryan Frye says the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act and state-revolving fund "allows (the city) to breathe and some time to incur these costs and not have to be sticker shocked right off the bat."

Frye says the hope is to get the initial phase of the new water treatment plant started in January through the early works package, designed to provide site improvements and to make preparations for construction.

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The Wichita City Council will vote Tuesday on the next phase of the new water treatment plant, and it could include an increase in your bill.

Phase 2 includes design completion, construction of the project as well as revenue needed and the rate adjustments for the 2020 fiscal year.

Don Henry, assistant director or Public Works, says Wichita water customers could see about a five percent hike in their billing next year. That's an increase of about $2 to $7 a month.

The rate recommendations will cover all of the revenue needs for both the water and the sewer utility, including major projects like the Northwest Water Treatment plant and major upgrades that will be coming up in a few years on the wastewater side, Henry said.

"There’s great news. The Wichita Water Treatment facility is on schedule, it’s within scope, and it’s under budget, so that is great news for not only the utility but for our city customers, as well as our regional customers," he said.

Wichitans we talked to said they don't like to see their rates rise, but they also don't want to think about what would happen if there was a failure at the treatment facility.

"Water is going to become more and more scarce each year, so we really need to take care of our water," said Cathleen Mellor. "And if we have to pay more for it, we will, and that’s what happens."

Victor Schimming says he thinks the issue should've been addressed long ago. He says he just hopes the increase is spread out and not collected in a short amount of time.

"I hope they spread it over a long number of years, instead of trying to get it all back in like five years or ten years. I hope it’s 30 years at least," he said.

Henry says the city will also make a recommendation to have the Wichita Water Partners cont being the contractors for Phase 2 of the water treatment project.