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City pondering water, sewer rate hikes
Currently, systems losing money
water rate chart

A few months back, the City of Great Bend hired Ranson Financial to perform a third-party analysis of the utility rates. Looking at the results, City Administrator Kendal Francis told the council when it met Monday night that changes had to be made.

After discussing the matter, the council agreed, but wanted to allow more time to inform water users of the pending changes. The council will vote on the matter when it meets Tuesday, Sept. 8 (the meeting was moved to Tuesday due to Labor Day).

The council has returned to meetings closed to the public (except for the live stream) due to COVID-19. But, the meeting was open to the public Monday due to the planned public hearing on the 2021 budget and numerous safety protocols were in place.

On the table is a 22% increase for water with an additional 3% per year for the next four years. The sewer hike is 33% with the same four-year adjustment.

“The analysis revealed that if rates were not addressed, expenditures would exceed revenues by $2.25 million in water and $4.25 million in sewer by 2025,” he said. “It is imperative we make some adjustments to the rates.”

Here is a break down of the increases for both water and sewer usage rates:

• Water (commercial and residential) – increase 22% from $2.54 per 1,000 gallons to $3.10 per 1,000 gallons, and then 3% each October for next five years.

• Water (hospitals, schools and nursing homes) – $3.10 per one thousand gallons for the first 20,000 gallons billed per month. Thereafter, $1.56 for each 1,000 gallons billed per month.

The base rates for water range from $12.35 per month to $18.91 depending on the size of the meter, which vary from 5/8 inch to six inches. These will also increase each October for next five years.

• Sewer – increase 33% from $3.80 per 1,000 gallons to $5.05 per 1,000 gallons, and then 3.5% each October for next five years.

The base rate for sewer will be $10.03 per month. And, this will increase 3.5% annually for five years.

Some on the council said they have heard from constituents that this would be a financial hardship, especially for those on a fixed income.

But, the systems have been falling behind for the past couple of years, Francis said. The city has tapped reserves to make up the shortfalls, but those will be zeroed out in about three years.

Besides, “our rates compare very well with other cities in Barton County, as well as in the surrounding area,” he said.

The current base water rate is $12 in Ellinwood and $25 in Hoisington. Around the area, the rate is $8.57 in Dodge City, $13.43 in McPherson, $10.65 in Hutchinson, $6.15 in Salina, $14.73 in Larned and $17.65 in Newton.

As for sewer rates, the current base rate is $3.75 in Ellinwood and $11.40 in Hoisington. Around the area, the rate is $17.23 in Dodge City, $15 in McPherson, $17.17 in Hutchinson, $8.36 in Salina, $24.45 in Larned and $34.96 in Newton.

The increases are also needed to needed repairs and upgrades can be made to system, Francis said.

Another issue

Further review of the rates also revealed that, for unknown reasons, neither the water meter charges nor usage rates for customers in the Westport Addition, which includes the Great Bend Municipal Airport and Industrial Park areas, had not been adjusted since at least 1975. As a result, the usage rates are significantly lower for those customers. 

In fact, the city is selling it for less than it costs us to produce it. By ordinance, the rates are 60 cents (customers are actually paying 63 cents) per 1,000 gallons while the city’s cost of producing 1 ,000 gallons of water is $1.11. 

“Obviously, it was a city error that got us to this point,” Francis said. So, they want to easy these customers, some of whom use 500,000 to 1 million gallons per month, up to the same level as other Great Bend customers.

Therefore, the city developed a plan to incrementally adjust water rates for Westport Addition customers that will bring them in line with all other users by the year 2024.

So, water rates will range from $1.11 down to 56 cents per 1,000 gallons (with larger volume customers paying less) this year. These will increase to a range of $3.59 down to $1.80 by 2025.

Water base rates here will be the same as the rest of the city and will be adjusted the same as well.

For sewer rates in Westport, the charge shall be the base charge plus $5.05 per 1,000 gallons of water, increasing 3.5% each year on Oct. 1 through 2025.

The base rate is also the same as the rest of Great Bend.

The city has owned the water system for the city proper since the 1980s. But, it has maintained the Westport system since the property was turned over to the city by the U.S. government (it was developed as an Army airbase during WW II to train B-29 bomber crews but given to the city after the war).

Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Monday night:

• Approved the city’s 2021 budget. It calls for no mill levy increase.

• Discussed increasing water and sewer rates.

• Approved bid from the Ray Lindsey Company, Belton, Mo., for $164,844 for the purchase of a grit chamber and classifier for the water treatment plant. 

This separates particles like sand and grit from the incoming material going further down the system. The current system dates back to 1979 and has not been operational for two years, Utilities Superintendent Reuben Martin said.

• Approved a bid from Ray Lindsey $191,000 for the purchase of the ultraviolet system for the water treatment plant.

The current system is a 1998 Trojan 3000 Classic which was put in when the plant was updated and is currently obsolete, Martin said.

• Approved a change order for the ball field lighting improvements at Veterans Memorial Park.

After digging test holes the last couple of weeks, it was discovered the soil did not meet required standards. They hit sand at three to four feet and water around nine feet. 

Working with engineers from project lighting company Musco, they have recommended to install metal casings. This is the most economical solution.

The tallest poles require 18-foot deep hole, the other poles depending on their height require a 10- to 14-foot depth.

The funding would come from the Baseball complex fund with plans of paying it back over the next few years. 

P&S Electric of Great Bend attained bids for the installation of the casing and Rosencrantz-Bemis Drilling Co. was the low bid for $126,502.

• Heard a report from City Administrator Kendal Francis. He focused on the ongoing Heizer Park survey and the importance of responding to the 2020 Census.

• Heard a report from Community Coordinator Christina Hayes. She highlighted the looming deadlines to plan the Christmas events in the city.

• Approved a tree trimmer license for Greg Boys from Great Bend.

• Approved a change of date for the next City Council meeting. 

The next regular meeting falls on Labor Day which is a holiday observed by the city. The meeting be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8.

• Held a 15-minute executive session to “discuss information deemed privileged in the attorney-client relation” regarding “pending litigation.” Included were the governing body, City Administrator Kendal Francis, and the City Attorney Bob Suelter.

After reconvening in open session, no action was taken.

• Approved abatements at: 1036 Jefferson, Accumulation of Trash/Refuse, owned by Michelle Grigsby; 1714 Adams, Accumulation of Trash/Refuse, owned by Ada Grace Fanatia; 1419 19th, Accumulation of Trash/Refuse, owned by Thomas Pearson; and 1019 Frey, Accumulation of Trash/Refuse, owned by Mario and Maria Bustamante.