Lawrence considering increase in sanitary sewer rates

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The City of Lawrence may issue up to $20 million in bonds to help pay for sewer improvements as officials consider increasing sanitary sewer rates for the first time in more than 10 years.

Lawrence Utility Supt. Scott Salsbery said the city hasn’t had a rate increase for sewer rates since 2009 and hired Baker Tilly as its financial consultant to prepare a rate study. Baker Tilly’s rate study came back with three alternatives, all of which would be phased in over a four-year period, according to the city.

The city’s Utility Services Board recommended during its June 28 meeting to go with the third alternative being proposed. For the average monthly residential bill of someone using 4,300 gallons, that would result in an increase of $8.60 per month, according to the city.

Customers would see a $9.33 monthly increase in their bill under the second phase of the plan starting in 2023. Residential customers would experience a $3.83 monthly hike in 2024, while that monthly amount would rise to $3.91 in 2025, according to the city.

The hike in sanitary sewer rates is subject to approval by the Lawrence Common Council, which will consider the matter during its Aug. 1 and Aug. 17 meetings. Salsbery said there are other issues driving the need for an increase in rates, including annual sewer treatment cost increases and an order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address sanitary sewer overflows.

In addition, Salsbery said the sewer rates will help cover expenses tied to routine costs and operations, adding that the city also needs to have enough funding to cover its debt while investing in its infrastructure. However, the hike in sewer rates and how soon that will impact customers in Lawrence depends on the Lawrence Common Council.

If the council were to approve an ordinance increasing rates during one of its August meetings, Salsbery said he anticipates the new rates would be reflected in September utility bills.

Meanwhile, Salsbery noted that when rates were increased in 2009, it provided money for capital projects, but not enough funding for additional work. Salsbery said the $20 million in bonds will specifically address chronic sanitary sewer overflows at 46th Street and Post Road, 71st Street and Oaklandon Road, in addition to 7699 East 53rd St.

Dealing with those overflows will tackle issues cited under the EPA order, in addition to other projects that were not completed in that mandate, according to Salsbery.

“As we progress, obviously, we’ll be getting a system that’s in much better condition, so you’ll have lower maintenance and emergency repair costs, much lower sewer treatment costs,” Salsbery said. “As the system keeps improving, the costs to operate it will keep coming down and that is how you control rates moving into the future.”

For more, visit cityoflawrence.org/proposed-sanitary-sewer-rate-increase.

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