Emporia City Commissioners may revisit utility rate increases that are set to go into effect next year.
Commissioners had approved what amounted to an overall 8 percent increase in city utilities — water, sewer and trash — that would amount to roughly an extra $6 on a bill for a household using 5,000 gallons of water each month.
But Finance Director Janet Harrouff said as she has been reviewing the city’s numbers, she found a number of issues between the city’s current water sales falling $200,000 below the budgeted amount and ongoing bond payment schedules that prompted her to do some refiguring.
Harrouff said she then began looking into other cities who charge a base rate on utilities for multi-unit properties.
”For example, you have an apartment building with five apartment units in it — currently within our ordinance you pay one base rate even though there are five units in it,” she said. “Other cities, if they have five units with one meter, they would pay five base rates. I had my staff go in and there are about 4,700 units that are multi-units and we are getting a base rate for each one of them.”
Harrouff said the city could potentially begin charging a base rate to multi-unit properties and manufactured home communities which use a single meter. She said there was a potential of bringing in an additional $220,000 per year just on a base rate for water alone. The result, she said, would be bringing in more money each year to replace or repair water mains.
Or, the city could use that additional income to drop the overall increase for single-family dwellings to 3 percent in 2020. Harrouff said the city could opt to implement that new base rate over two years to give the owners of multi-unit properties time to adjust, but some commissioners had concerns over what that would mean for renters.
”We’ve got building complexes that have been in place for 30 or 40 years and then all of a sudden we say ... with 240 units we’re going to increase their annual water bill $300,000?” Commissioner Rob Gilligan said.
”They’ll pass it along to their tenants,” Commissioner Bobbi Mlynar added.
”Then why do we have a fear about anything if the answer is always, ‘They’ll just turn around and pass it on to the renters,’” Gilligan replied. “OK. Let’s raise our commercial property tax rates. To me, we’ve got to think about that. Sorry, I’m a hard no on this conversation. And remember, it’s our renters. These are our most at-risk residents and what we’re saying is, to avoid a $1.50 a month increase on your bill we’re going to raise this bill $9.”
Mayor Jon Geitz said he was opposed to the idea of reversing the commission’s plan on 8 percent rate increases each year over the next several years.
”I’m the jerk because I’ve been the one who has been pushing for utility rate increases each year,” he said. “You compare Emporia to cities around the state of Kansas, our rates are not cheap and our rates are not the highest. We are in the vicinity of the average and I’m comfortable with that. We have spent a tremendous amount of money on our underground utilities in the last six, seven years. We’re going to continue spending money on maintaining our underground utilities.”
Geitz said people who use city utilities should be expected to pay into those maintenance costs, even when that means increases.
”We have an obligation to make sure that we are providing services in the most cost-effective way that we can,” he said.
Commissioner Danny Giefer said he wasn’t totally in agreement with Geitz, saying he was in favor of looking into a lower rate increase and lower city reserves. Geitz reminded commissioners that a lower rate increase in 2020 would result in a higher increase in following years.
Discussions on utility rates will continue in the coming weeks.
In other business, commissioners heard from Emporia Main Street Executive Director Casey Woods regarding electric car charging stations that could potentially be installed in Emporia by Evergy — formerly Westar Energy.
Woods said Evergy would be responsible for the placement and maintenance of different charging stations and there would be a small fee assessed to those charging cars in those areas. He said Main Street had identified several locations that could work for stations: 400 block Mechanic Street parking lot; 500 block Mechanic Street along the west side; 600 block Mechanic Street; 700 block Merchant Street; 700 Mechanic Street.
Commissioners Becky Smith and Gilligan asked if there were locations outside of the immediate downtown area that had been considered, or if there were opportunities for other locations to be considered.
Woods said businesses interested in possibly participating in the program can contact Main Street at 340-6430.