City of Topeka postpones vote on proposed utility rate increases
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A vote on potential increases in the city’s utility rates will wait a while.
Topeka City Manager Steve Wade told the governing body Tuesday night that he decided to remove the scheduled vote from the Jan. 10 meeting agenda.
“We have three or four items we’re looking at very strongly that we think could have an impact, so pending that evaluation, my preference right now is to not take it to a vote,” he said.
The city has a final public meeting to hear citizen input on the proposal scheduled for Noon Wednesday, Jan. 4 at the city’s Holliday building, 620 SE Madison.
Following Wade’s announcement, the governing body went forward with its scheduled discussion on the proposal.
Dist. 2 representative Christina Valdivia-Alcala said she was glad to hear the vote was being postponed. She said she is worried about the impact of rate increases on residents with fixed and lower incomes. She said even putting a portion of the revenue to expanding a rebate program may not be enough.
“We know how inflation is ravaging the grocery prices right now and I hope that there’s ways that (the) city manager and staff are seriously and aggressively continuing to look at grant possibilities,” she said.
City leaders say the rate increases are needed to address ongoing maintenance issues. They point to the high number of water main breaks attributed to aging infrastructure. The city had 583 breaks in 2022 through late December, following 539 in 2021, 464 in 2020, 393 in 2019 and 873 in 2018.
“I’m concerned about the amount of money it would cost anybody, but when I step back and look at it, if we’re not providing water to people, nobody else will,” Dist. 1 Rep. Karen Hiller said. “We’re running a utility. We need that money to do it right, to do some catch up on some things that weren’t done before.”
The current proposal calls for increasing water, wastewater and stormwater rates a combined 9.85 percent annually for the next three years. Broken down, the proposal calls for: 11.8 percent increase for water in 2024 and 2025, and 11.5 percent increase in 2026; 8 percent increase for wastewater in 2024 and 2025, and 8.25 percent increase in 2026; and 7.5 percent increase for stormwater in 2024, and 7 percent increase in 2025 and 2026.
The proposed increases would add about $9 a month to the average bill.
Dist. 5 Rep. Brett Kell said he understands people are being hit with increases from many entities, but he said those do not address the city’s needs.
“We need to take care of ourselves,” he said. “We need to look at a compromise and try to lower these numbers a little bit and try to figure out what’s best for the future and not try to kick this can down the road.”
Both Valdivia-Alcala and Dist. 9 Rep. Michelle Hoferer urged people to get involved in letting their representatives know how they feel about the issue.
Wade said people may see the master plans for the city’s utility projects can be found on the utilities section of topeka.org. The city also posted further information about the proposed utility rate increases on a special page at topeka.org. Wade also invited people to email him with questions, citymanagertopeka.org.
A new date for a vote on the proposed increases is not yet set.
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