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Lawrence stormwater, trash bills likely to increase; city board voices support for utility payment plans

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As the Lawrence City Commission is set to consider increasing rates that residents pay for stormwater and solid waste, members of the Affordable Housing Advisory Board are advocating for utility payment plans.

Commissioners on Tuesday will hear from city staff members about proposed increases for stormwater and solid waste rates.

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City utility bills also include water and sewer, but no increases to those rates are included on Tuesday’s agenda.

If approved, average residential stormwater rates would increase to $7.94 from $7.38, about a 7.9% increase.

Residential solid waste rates for both single-family and multifamily homes would increase by $1.34, or 6.5%; commercial rates would increase by 12.5%, with exact costs varying by size of the trash container, according to the agenda.

“The model increases rates on Commercial, Downtown and Roll-off services to address the actual costs to provide these services. Single-family and multi-family rates have been offsetting the costs for these service lines,” according to the agenda item. “The proposed rate increases ultimately balance the inequity between residential and commercial charges for service.”

The city anticipated the additional revenues from increased rates as part of the 2024 budget process. The stormwater rate increase will bring the city an additional $451,090 in revenue, and the solid waste rate increase will bring in an extra $1.1 million, according to the agenda items.

“The recommended rate increases do not cover all operating costs in 2024,” according to the agenda item on solid waste rates. “Projections show a planned use of about $570,000 in fund balance to hold rate increases as low as possible.”

If approved, rate increases will become effective Jan. 1.

The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board met Monday and discussed signing a letter in support of the city creating utility payment plans so that residents experiencing financial difficulties can have options rather than risk getting their water shut off or other outcomes if they can’t pay.

The letter was a request from the Douglas County Housing Stabilization Collaborative, which helps local residents with temporary rent and utility assistance.

AHAB members voiced support of the idea, and they noted that nearby cities and private utilities such as Evergy and Black Hills provide different options to help people pay their bills as they’re able to.

Overdue utility payments can also contribute to people being unable to secure housing. AHAB member Shannon Oury, CEO of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, said people sometimes aren’t able to sign leases because they aren’t able to get the utilities turned on if they still owe the city for past utility bills.

“I don’t advocate not requiring people to pay, but I do advocate methods that allow low-income people to afford it and to make payments and to get back on their feet when they run into issues,” Oury said.

AHAB member Sarah Waters said she supported payment plans being available to everybody because they help to control expenses, and because unexpected things can happen that make people in any financial circumstances unable to pay a bill.

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City staff members have said previously that they do not have the capacity to create, implement and manage similar programs. Currently, the only Lawrence residents who can receive reduced utility rates from the city are qualifying seniors who have low incomes.

AHAB board members voted to approve signing the letter of support. (The letter, which was drafted prior to the most recent commission meeting, will be updated to reflect that Bart Littlejohn is now mayor. It will not likely be added to this week’s City Commission agenda.)

Lawrence city commissioners will being their regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., to discuss the planned rate increases and the rest of their agenda. Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page, youtube.com/@lawrenceksvideo.

The meeting will start at 5 p.m. with a 30-minute executive session, or closed-door meeting, for commissioners to have an attorney-client privileged discussion on pending litigation and claims.

People may submit written comments to the commissioners until noon the day of the meeting by emailing ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. People may also give public comment in person or via Zoom during the meetings; register for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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