Decision delayed on Wichita water rate increases

Wichita city council members have delayed action on proposed water rate increases for next year, but they’re moving ahead with plans for a new water treatment plant.

The city is planning to use increases along with an application for a $270 million federal loan to build a new treatment plant.  Public works director Alan King says the existing plant is almost 80 years old and has had some “near miss” failures.  He said a catastrophic failure could lead to extended water outages for half a million people in the Wichita region.

The rate increases were proposed to be a combined 7.7 percent, with an 8.5 percent increase in water rates and 6.5 percent for sewer rates.   That would be an increase ranging from about $3.50 to around $10.00 a month for residential customers.

After a lengthy discussion on the design of the plant and the costs involved, mayor Jeff Longwell said he wants to have a design contest with the two engineering teams that submitted proposals to the city on the development of the project.   Longwell said “there’s a wide swing on what this plant could look like in terms of the cost and the cost to operate, but the cost to build itself could be nearly a hundred million dollars’ difference.”   He said the price is going to be critically important to the ratepayers.   The mayor also said he’s not ready to approve the proposed rate increases because he wants an evaluation on how to spread out the increases differently in future years.

Council members voted 5-2 to delay action on the rate increases and move ahead with the design contest for the project.   Vice mayor Bryan Frye and council member Cindy Claycomb voted no.