Post updated at 5:09 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8:
City officials are recommending a 26% increase to customer utility bills over the course of the next three years.
Lawrence Municipal Services and Operations is seeking approval for the proposed hike, which Lawrence city commissioners will review at their meeting Tuesday.
Under MSO’s recommendation, the city would raise the average water bill from $115 to $122, or $84 more per year, in 2023. Another $10 would be tacked on each month starting in 2024, costing consumers $120 more yearly. And in 2025, the monthly bill would increase by $13 a month, or $156 more per year.
The average monthly water and waste bill in 2025 would be $145, or $30 more per month than the current rates.
A memo from MSO states that the utility increase would pay for infrastructure projects, personnel costs, additional staff, and inflation. The increase would also be applied toward renewable energy infrastructure for facilities, vehicles at the Field Operations Campus and upgrades to the Kansas River Wastewater Plant.
Nearly 600 Lawrence residents have needed water assistance from the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) program since its formation in March 2021, according to the LMSO memo. And at least 140 Lawrence residents have received funding from the Emergency Water Assistance Program, which is administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. These programs are one-time use, however, so past recipients are ineligible for more assistance.
“We anticipate additional customers to receive assistance through these programs going forward until program funds are exhausted,” MSO staff wrote in the memo.
The memo doesn’t provide a plan for lasting measures to help financially stressed households or those on fixed incomes to handle the increases.
“As Federal and State assistance programs taper off, City staff are keeping open the option of using general fund dollars to assist customers who need help with their utility bills, to minimize the impact of rate increases.”
The city started its own utility assistance program in August 2021, so Lawrence residents can volunteer to contribute toward others’ utility bills. So far only 43 customers have participated, paying an average of $10 monthly and benefiting eight total customers, according to the memo.
The city last approved utility rate hikes in November of 2021, for an average of $6 more monthly.
In 2015, the average utility bill was $75. If commissioners approve, the average rate in 2025 will be nearly double that.
The Lawrence City Commission will review the proposal at its 5:45 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. See the full meeting agenda at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
The commission accepts written public comment in writing ahead of meetings — comments must be received by noon the day of the meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org — and live public comment during meetings in person and virtually. Register to join the Zoom meeting at this link.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.