Wichita council raises water rates; business gets larger hike than residential customers

The Wichita City Council sided with its staff today and approved a water and sewer rate increase that will fall harder on business than residential customers.

Council members up and down the bench apologized to residents and said they didn’t want to raise the rates.

But they said they have to bring in more money for the system, to make much-needed repairs and upgrades for reliability and water quality.

“Just because it falls for free out of the sky doesn’t mean it’s unlimited, or that it’s free to clean it and deliver it,” council member Janet Miller said.

Under the plan approved by the council, residential customers will see their rates rise from 2.6 to 3.9 percent, with larger users receiving the lower percentage of increase.

A small user, at 3,000 gallons, will see the monthly water-sewer bill rise by $1.18, according to city documents.

A 15,000-gallon residential user will see the bill rise $2.78 a month, while a 22,500-gallon user will get an increase of $3.58.

Commercial rates will increase 8.3 percent, raising a 100,000-gallon water bill by $34.64 a month.

A major industrial user will see rates go up 8.2 percent, about $3,203 for a 10 million gallon bill.

City staff recommended smaller increases for residential customers to start rebalancing costs between them and the business users.

A rate study by an outside consulting firm found that residential customers are now paying more than it costs to serve them, in essence subsidizing business users by roughly $3.3 million a year.

The council turned aside a second, more business-friendly option.

The so-called “Option 2” plan had the support of the business-centric Water Utilities Advisory Committee, which was appointed by Mayor Carl Brewer.

Under Option 2, all customers, residential and commercial, would have seen an increase of 5.9 percent.

Under that option, residential rates would have risen $1.79 for the 3,000-gallon customer to $8.24 a month for the 22,500-gallon user.

The 100,000-gallon commercial business would have seen an increase of $24.63 a month — $10 less than under the option the council picked.

The 10 million gallon industrial user would have paid $2,312 more a month, a saving of about $900 a month over the plan the city picked.

By a 6-1 vote, the council opted to put the smaller increases on residential customers.

The lone dissenter, council member Michael O’Donnell, said he thinks that the rate structure that the rest of the council approved will hurt efforts to attract businesses.

Bringing in more business would mean more water customers, which he said would be a better solution to the system’s woes.

John Stevens, one of several speakers from Wichita Independent Neighborhoods, said the increase will hurt residents of poorer areas of town who won’t be able to afford to water their yards, contributing to neighborhood decline.

He also complained that the way rates are set – based on average winter usage – encourages people to waste water in the winter so their summer rates will be lower.

Public Works Director Alan King sought to debunk the public perception that dumping water during the winter results in lower summer bills.

He said the linkage between water and sewer bills makes that a money-losing proposition.

“What you might gain on the water side, you end up paying even more on the sewer side,” he said.