Archive for Thursday, July 1, 2004

Fees focus on growth

Council adopts sewer rate plan with greatest increase on development

July 1, 2004

Congruent with comments from Eudora residents, the Eudora City Council passed new sewer rates Monday night that placed a heavier burden on new construction than was originally suggested.
The sewer connection fee that was $1,500 is now $3,250 for a single-family house, $6,500 for a duplex, plus $750 more per tap on apartments. The sewer tap fee that was $100 is now $300.
Monthly base charges will increase from $12 a month to $14 month. Each additional thousand gallons will cost Eudorans $2.75 compared to the previous $2 charge. The rates will be reflected on city utility bills due in September.
Many of the citizens who spoke out in a public hearing Monday urged the city to put the burden of paying for sewers on developers, whom many said came to Eudora for the cheaper land prices and larger profit margins.
"They're leaving Lawrence to come here," said Matt Montgomery. "We don't want another Lawrence to come to Eudora, Kansas."
Many of those unhappy with sewer rates increases said they didn't think current residents, many of whom were retired or otherwise on thinly-stretched budgets, should bear the brunt. Some said the $5 or so extra dollars a month they would have to pay for sewer service would mean a meal or a trip to the grocery store.
"I think Eudora is a wonderful place," said Christina Taylor. "I hope Eudora continues to grow. Why can't the people moving here pay for these things?"
Others who spoke out cited the need for managed residential growth and increased commercial development to pay for infrastructure (see 'Council', below left) while others criticized what they thought was a lack of advanced notice for the meeting.
Conner said raising rates was a tough decision he hated to make.
"But the City Council has a responsibility to control costs, and the City Council has the responsibility to ensure utility systems are properly funded," he said.
During the discussion, city staff clarified points made in a flier about the increase proposals that citizens had circulated. Conner said one of the city's reasons for increasing sewer rates was to cover operations and maintenance. Having kept sewer rates the same since 1999, the city had been using its reserves to cover operational costs.
Moreover, the city has a middle interceptor sewer project and an east interceptor sewer project. City Administrator Mike Yanez said to get a loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Eudora was required to have a rate study. Funds from sewer increases will help retire the debt.
Yanez said the city needed an additional $300,000 in revenue a year for debt retirement and operations and maintenance.
Citizens and Council members questioned why money-saving projects spearheaded by the wastewater treatment plant's operator, Kathy Hernandez, couldn't help offset the needed revenue, letting the city eschew rate increases.
Yanez said money saved would help with expenses in the future, and City Council member Dan Gregg said it would probably allow the city to retire the debt on a faster timeline. However, Yanez said the KDHE loan required the city to look at black-and-white numbers in the current budget, not at projected future savings.
The middle interceptor sewer project will give capacity to all of the preliminary plats the city already approved plus the equivalent of 30 more homes, said city engineer Cecil Kingsley. Moreover, Kingsley said the city staff met with developers and owners in the last six weeks about "many other acres."
"The worst I could do is to let you hook on this sewer without capacity," Kingsley said.
He said the city would also be doing flow monitoring to track numbers for KDHE.
When talking about capacity, Kingsley said if any one section had reached capacity, the sewer had reached capacity. That was why the first step was to deal with just those at-capacity sections, he said, as the first phase of the project will deal with at four particular sections.
Council member Gregg commended the lone Eudora citizen who spoke up on behalf of raising rates to help finance sewer improvements amid what was at times a "hostile" room.
"We need this very badly," said Viola Thomas. "We needed it a long time ago."
Looking at how new development affected sewer rates prompted further discussion, said Council member Don Durkin. He said the city should begin looking at streets, parks and other infrastructure and amenities developers affected.

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