El Dorado residents will be seeing an increase on their water and sewer rates next year.
The El Dorado City Commission took action Monday evening to increase both of these rates after tabling a decision on a water rate increase.
The residential sewer rate increase would be an 8 percent, which would generate $137,000 per year.
Kurt Bookout, public utilities director, said this would take the average bill for 5,610 gallons from $23.89 up to $25.87.
Commissioner David Chapin raised the same question he had in the water rate discussion: if it could be implemented over a couple of years so there was not so much of an increase at one time.
Commissioner Chase Locke had a question about that.
"When we are talking about repairs and maintenance with infrastructure, I assume it would be beneficial to those to have that up front rather than over time?" he asked.
While the city has been doing maintenance each year, but they are asking for the increase because that fund has been depleted.
Several years ago they started spending a quarter million dollars a year rehabilitating manholes. Now they need to move on to the pipes.
"We need that for 10 years to fix some of the worst deterioration," Bookout said of the increase. "It's harder to ignore the problems now that you can see them."
New technology has allowed for better inspection of sewer pipes.
"I am asking for what I feel is the bare minimum to continue operating at the level we are operating," Bookout said.
Mayor Mike Fagg voiced the concern about the additional $86,000 in the sewer budget for the stadium and ICMA retirement.
Commissioner Bill Young said that does not change the fact they have sewer pipes deteriorating for which they cannot pay.
"I just wonder about the amounts," Chapin said. "In the same situation with the water, I think we could raise it over a period of years and not really even have an impact on the bill. To some people it won't matter, but to some people it will matter."
Commissioner Nick Badwey voiced his support, saying, "Our utilities director is standing there telling us this is the minimum he needs and I am going to vote yes for it."
"I think we have the greatest water guy and greatest sewer guy (Bookout) in the state of Kansas," Chapin said. "I was elected to represent the people. It may only be two bucks, but it is two bucks for as long as you own a house in El Dorado."
Herb Llewellyn, city manager, said if they phase it in, then the city would not be as aggressive in fixing the system.
Page 2 of 3 - "If you all voted no, next month when you flush your toilet it's going away. It's happening. It will be pay me now or pay me later. You don't have to do it and what we'll do is do the best we can."
"We've always done a very good job," Chapin responded. "I am doing my job right now of doing due diligence on both sides, the taxpayer and you guys. I just said phase it in over two years. It's just a little less money the first year."
Commissioner Bill Young said he felt they should have been more diligent as a commission over the last eight years to have more discussions before it built up to an 8 percent increase.
"I can make the argument for the other way," Bookout said. "The first half of my career with El Dorado we did regular increases and people hated it. They said 'let's just to one rate increase and don't bother us for five to eight years.' You can argue either point. I hope eight years of no rate increase is evidence of us being prudent with money."
One other way the city has tried to be prudent with money is providing citizens with information about a warranty program through Service Line Warranties. In a report he received Monday, they have saved citizens more than $100,000 in the last year to year and a half. There have been more than 200 repair or replacement jobs in El Dorado.
"That company has spent twice what they have taken in in premiums," Bookout said. "Again, anything we can do to help offset those costs of utilities."
"Costs will go up every year, not just every eight years," Chapin said. "Maybe we should have had this discussion six years ago and I probably would have been on board with it."
Young asked if they just need to catch up at this point, then figure out how to proceed with future increases.
Chapin said they could raise it small amounts each year, then if they don't need it one year, don't raise it that year.
Llewellyn said from now on they will discuss rates at budget time every year.
The commission voted 4-1, with Fagg opposed, to raise the rates 8 percent.
"I voted yes because I understand the situation," Chapin said. "All I wanted to do was throw it out there so staff can think about it."
Next, the commission looked at a refuse rate increase.
"I will echo quite a few of the same things Kurt did," said Brad Meyer, public works director.
They also have not had a rate increase in eight years. In 2009, the city switched to an automated refuse collection system.
Page 3 of 3 - "In '09 we needed a rate increase and in order to alleviate needing that refuse rate increase we went to an automated system," Meyer said.
Since then they have absorbed some landfill increases and have seen increased fuel costs.
"We are now beyond what we had originally said by two years for a rate increase," he said. "As for spreading it out a little bit each year, we did that in sanitation and I distinctly remember my predecessor coming and asking for 50 or 75 cents or $1 every couple of years."
Because both services receive no mill levy, they are based off of what customers pay each month for the service.
"In checking around, we keep very close tabs on what other communities are doing and communities of like-size or like-programs are the ones that we check," Meyer said. "With the proposed rate increase for the services provided, we will still be the cheapest in the center section of Kansas and I would challenge that for further out west as well that our rates will be the cheapest out there."
The refuse rate would go up 11 percent for residential from $12.60 to $14 a month, which includes a drop off recycling facility, curb side recycling and a compost site. The out-of-city rate would increase from $14.06 to $17.50. Those increases would generate $125,000 a year.
In addition, next year there will have to be additional commercial dumpsters bought.
"We've done about all the patch work we can do to what we've got," Meyer said.
Chapin again asked about phasing in the increase.
"We have done phase in incremental every couple of years and what we heard was 'you're always raising my trash bill,'" Meyer said. "We got away from it probably in 2002 or 2003. We said we don't want to do it every couple of years. We said we want to go as long as we can then come tell you if we need a rate increase."
Young asked about automated recycling pickup to save money there.
Meyer said in 2014 they will move to semi-automated curbside collection of recyclables. They will get the carts in 2014 and use their backup truck. Then in 2015 they will get a fully automated truck.
The commission approved this increase 4-1, with Fagg opposed.
Julie Clements can be reached at email@example.com.