5% increase in water rates approved for Wichita in 2020 to fund new treatment facility

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WICHITA, Kan. (WBJ) -

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a 5-percent water and sewer rate increase in 2020 to help fund Wichita's new water treatment facility.

The rate adjustment, which is expected to gradually increase over the next few years, will fund a small portion of the $553 million total project cost for the Northwest Water Treatment Facility, a project that will replace Wichita's existing 80-year-old plant.

With the new combined water and sewage rate increase, homeowners are expected to pay between $2 and $7 more each month, while commercial businesses are expected to face about a $28 increase. Industrial customers will average a $2,600 increase each month.

The Council also voted to move forward with Wichita Water Partners and Garver Engineering, which have been contracted to design and build the facility near 21st Street and Hoover Road in northwest Wichita — a decision that hasn't been without controversy.

"There are some in our community who would like us to slow down or even start over, but we’re passed that," council member Bryan Frye said during the meeting. "We’ve delayed and deferred this project for way too long. It’s now time for action."

After Tuesday's vote, the city plans to submit an application to a state revolving loan fund from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which is due Dec. 17. The state loan is expected to provide $267 million to the project, while a federal loan from the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to provide $270 million. The city submitted its application for the federal loan Oct. 30.

Water utility funds, including money collected from the rate increases, will pay for the remaining $16 million. Each year, the City Council will vote on water and sewage rates. On Tuesday, the Council only voted for the 2020 rate increase, but projections presented to the Council show rates will continue to hover around a 5-percent increase for about the next eight years.

Construction on the Northwest Water Treatment Facility is expected to start in 2020 and take about four years to finish. Wichita Water Partners, led by Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, includes 10 local design and construction organizations.

Frye called the facility "a significant investment in our future," one that's more important than a new airport, performing arts or convention center.

"It’s the one thing more than all the rest which can determine the growth of our community," he said. "This is the single largest capital improvement project our city has taken on at any one time."

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