In 2019, Emporia will experience a rise in rates for several utilities, including water, sewer and trash.
City Treasurer Janet Harrouff said customers will see an increase of 8 percent for water, 10 percent for sewer and 5 percent for trash, which will have an impact on dumpsters and landfill charges but not roll-offs, she said.
Combined, these changes will raise the average customer’s monthly bill by about $6 each month for all three services.
“Had we had 2- or 3-percent rate increases every year, we would not be looking at these 8- and 10-percent increases,” she said.
Harrouff said the last increase in solid waste rates took place in 2009.
“When we look at these rate increases, we are very conscious of our residents and what it does to their pocket books,” she said. “We try to keep it as minimal as possible just doing the bare minimums that we need to be doing. Six dollars a month sounds like a lot. Unfortunately, prices are increasing and the infrastructure isn’t getting any newer, so we’re having to keep maintaining the infrastructure.”
According to City Commissioner Bobbi Mlynar, problems with Emporia’s water infrastructure over the past year or so have cost the city. The increase in water rates was needed to help the city keep up with the cost of supplies, including the chemicals needed to clean the water.
“We decided we would do it in increments so it wouldn’t be too terribly painful,” she said. “It was just something that was unavoidable. I get a water bill just like everybody else and I don’t like it any better than the citizens, but it was something that we couldn’t stop. We couldn’t avoid doing that; we had to do it.”
According to Harrouff, the money from the water increase will go to “the debt payments that we have incurred and will be incurring in the future — mainly water main replacements and plant improvements.”
The rise in the sewer rate springs from an upcoming wastewater treatment plant project, she said. The project will cost about $28.6 million to complete.
The increase in trash rates are from the cost of equipment, which Harrouff said is on the rise.
Rates are expected to continue to go up, according to the city’s five-year plan, she said.
“Water, I believe we have a 5-percent (increase) next year and then a 3-percent increase after that,” she said
Other cities of Emporia’s size around the state each do things a little differently in terms of their water, sewer and trash rates.
According to City Manager of Junction City Allen Dinkel, the city charges $33.05 per month for 5,000 gallons of water usage. Normal water usage for the typical household is about 5,000 gallons per month.
However, he said he tells people to be careful when trying to compare water usage between municipalities because there are so many factors in determining the price of water. This includes the source of the water. According to Dinkel, Junction City uses water from about 10 wells located near the water plant on the Republican River.
“It’s an excellent source of water and wells are replenished by both rain and water in the river coming from Milford Lake,” he said.
Emporia’s water is surface water from the Neosho River.
“Rates for water and waste water are really tough to compare because there’s so many pieces to the game,” Dinkel said.
Junction City, he said, is currently using a system where it raises its water rates every year by about 6 percent.
Junction City charges $43.03 per month for sewer for 5,000 gallons of usage per household. Junction City’s trash rate is $19.
“We are probably about on par with water average,” Dinkle said. “Sewer, we’re probably a little bit above, but we also had to take care of — remodel — two sewer plants that had been in neglect to some extent and had to be updated.”
In addition to having different sources for water, some cities adopt completely different systems of measurement and billing.
The city of Pittsburg’s system measures water in cubic meters rather than by the gallon as Emporia does.
Pittsburg charges a minimum rate of $11.68 for 200 or fewer cubic meters of usage within its city limits. The rate for outside usage is a minimum of $23.33. This rate goes up incrementally as water usage increases. There are eight separate brackets, according to Director of Finance for Pittsburg Jamie Clarkson, for people inside the city and eight more brackets for those using city water outside the city limits.
“It’s not just one fee per gallon,” he said.
Because of this, he said, it becomes hard to compare the city to others, even those with similar populations.
The sewer rate is similar in that the city measures usage in cubic feet, as it does with water. The minimum service charge, which is for 200 or fewer cubic feet of usage per month, is $20.38, after which it increases by $2.93 per 100 cubic feet of usage. Outside the city limits, the city of Pittsburg charges $40.58 for minimum usage with an increase of $5.76.
Pittsburg raises its fees slightly on an annual basis.
“We’ve generally been doing 1 percent a year,” Clarkson said of his city’s water rates. “Sometimes some cities, they’ll go years without doing it then they have to do a 10- or 15-percent increase. Yeah, it’s easier to just do a small one every year for inflation or whatever. That way you don’t have to get caught up in those big ones.”
The city of Pittsburg doesn’t have a trash rate available, he said, because the service is provided by a private carrier.
The raise in Emporia utility rates coming in 2019 will cost the average customer $6 more per month. Here is what total utility costs will look like for the average Emporia household once all rates are adjusted:
New Emporia utility increase - $6
Proposed Kansas Gas increase* - $5.67 (10 percent)
Westar Energy decrease** - $4.00
Total difference for 2019 - $7.67 per month
* Increase is only proposed and has not yet been approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission
** The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board reached an agreement with Westar Energy in July to avoid a rate hike and decrease price per month by $4 in the average household.