Augusta residents could see a significant increase on their water bills soon

Augusta residents will continue to live under relaxed outdoor watering restrictions for at least a couple more weeks and they could see a significant increase on their water bills soon.

Mayor Kristey Williams asked at Monday night's Augusta City Council meeting if there was a need to continue the watering restrictions that allow watering anytime every day except for Wednesday and Sunday when all watering is banned.

The usage has not increased significantly since more stringent restrictions were relaxed early this fall. However, some restrictions were left in place while the city restored service from Santa Fe Lake – Augusta's third alternative for water supply. The line to Santa Fe Lake broke during high water conditions in the Whitewater River just west of Augusta during the heavy rain events in late July and early August.

The plan to repair the water line will include boring under the river to put a less vulnerable line in to bring water from the lake to the treatment plant. That project will likely cost the city more than $200,000 but as much as 85 percent of the cost could be borne by the state and federal government – both of whom have declared part of Butler County a disaster area. If the break in the water line qualifies, grants will be available due to the additional assistance that is available.

The current total water usage for the city and its retail customers which include Mulvane and a few rural water districts has been hovering around 1.5 million gallons per day which is less than half of the systems capabilities.

The consensus on the council asked Assistant City Manager Josh Shaw to prepare the necessary action that would alleviate the Water Emergency the council declared paving the way for restrictions. When that is lifted, the restrictions could be as well.

The funds to pay for the Santa Fe Lake repairs will come from the proceeds of the one-cent sales tax passed for improvements to the water system.

That sales tax is expected to provide about $810,000 per year to help pay for a new water line to El Dorado Lake. With the addition of the new Walmart Supercenter on the west side of Augusta, Shaw said the city has seen an increase in sales taxes although the size of the bump is hard to determine.

"We only have four months of returns at the higher rates," said City Clerk Erica Jones.

Councilor Matt Malone asked for staff to bring a solid estimate on the revenue for that sales tax because the council will face a tough decision at its next meeting.

The $810,000 from the sales tax was always designed to fund only part of the new water line and other projects.

The city needs about $300,000 more that is destined to come from increased costs to water system customers.

The council was presented three options to raise the additional $300,000 Monday night.

The first option would raise the base rate for all customers about 62 percent from $11.65 to $18.85. That option would offer a guaranteed amount of revenue per month but put a larger portion of the burden on people on fixed income and low-volume users.

The second option would only rely on only increases in the rate per thousand gallons used. This option is more fair across the board but the amount of revenue generated could fluctuate wildly. The third option offered a combination of the two plans that would include a smaller base rate increase and increases for those customers at higher usage levels.

"As far as I am concerned, you can take option one off the board," said Councilor Ron Reavis.

Mayor Kristey Williams agreed.

"I prefer a combination of the two," Williams said. "I understand the need for predictable revenue but I don't want to put all of the burden on smaller users."

No decision was made on the rate increases Monday night. The plans will be discussed further at a special meeting the governing body set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 14.

Also to be discussed at the meeting is the cost benefit analysis the city just received on the proposed hotel project which is being considered in the Seventh Street corridor between the new Susan B. Allen Hospital Urgent Care Clinic and Walmart.

Many incentives were requested to lure in the hotel developer. There has been a great deal of concern offered by council members who think the development group is asking for too much assistance.

The new city manager, Gabe Gonzalez, will have his first meeting with the council at that special meeting since he will begin his tenure with the on Nov. 12.

Kent Bush can be reached at