In 2016, the Kansas City Council unanimously approved another 3 percent increase in water charges and a 13 percent increase in sewer charges, effective May 1, 2016.
With these increasing rates, the average household residential water/sewer/stormwater bill has risen from about $102 per month to $110 per month. That’s up from an average of $65 per month in 2011-12.
The money is needed to continue dealing with a massive problem of old and crumbling water and wastewater infrastructure.
KC Water Services director Terry Leeds said he’s certainly sympathetic to rate increase fatigue, but he didn’t have an easy answer.
“We are no longer a low-dollar utility,” Leeds said, although he noted that average water bills are still often lower than monthly electric, cable TV and cell phone charges. “We have as a society undervalued water.”
Leeds and other water officials say that after decades of artificially low rates and poor infrastructure maintenance, they are making up for lost time and pouring millions of dollars into new water and sewer pipes.
Next fiscal year, Leeds said, the department expects to spend more than $100 million on water infrastructure upgrades, including 28 miles of water main replacements, and $200 million on sewer improvements.
Water rates are rising at a rate just slightly higher than inflation.
But sewer rates have skyrocketed in recent years, and are expected to keep rising by 13 percent annually until 2022. That’s in large part because the city is five years into a 25-year federal consent decree to implement more than $2 billion in sewer upgrades and alleviate pollution into its rivers and streams.
Pat Clarke, head of Kansas City’s Oak Park Neighborhood Association, said he well understands the need to raise money to repair antiquated pipes underground.
“It’s going to have to happen now or later,” he said, although he’s still frustrated about today’s rate payers having to absorb that enormous cost.
He often gets an earful from his neighbors about the city’s rising water and sewer charges.
“It’s been a very big increase,” Clarke said Thursday. “It’s a challenge. You’ve got people on fixed incomes.”
Ever since five grandchildren moved in with him and his wife last December, Clarke has been especially aware of the water usage, and he’s constantly urging the youngsters to limit their time in the shower.
“Even the drips are hurting us,” he said.
Of course, KC Water Services is not alone in raising rates. Rate increases are also happening with Missouri American Water and other area utilities, including in Johnson County. But a comparison of metro area combined water and sewer charges shows Kansas City’s with the highest ranking as of May 1, because of its big sewer rate increases.