Questioning the water project in the proposed Wichita sales tax increase

As some of you may know, I work for Jennifer Winn, who is currently running for Mayor, and who also happens to be an irrigation specialist.

We were reading this recent story in the Wichita Eagle where Director of Public Works and Utilities, Alan King, cited a study conducted by Black and Veatch. King notes that among 50 cities studied, Wichita has the eleventh lowest water rates. This ranking was based on the rates of residential customers using 7,500 gallons of billable water usage.

However, a closer look at the study reveals that, in come cases, the more water a customer uses, the lower their bill is compared with the other 49 cities.

For customers using 100,000 gallons of water, their monthly bill is ranked as the third lowest. For industrial customers using 10 million gallons of water, their bills are the sixth lowest.

As I am sharing this data with Jennifer Winn, she turned to me and rhetorically asked, “what causes low prices?”

The only reasonable answer I could come up with was that an abundant supply causes low prices.

So do we have an abundant supply, to such an extent that we can afford to offer some of the lowest water rates in the nation?

Why are we giving better deals on water consumption to the entities that use the most water? Giving discounted rates based upon volume would make sense if the goal is to sell as much water as possible. But if the goal is to encourage water conservation, would it not be wiser to offer better deals to those who use the least? Would it not make more sense to charge higher rates for higher water consumption?

As a consumer, I can avoid paying a higher water bill by simply being smart about how much water I use, which actually benefits the community. But under a sales tax (the city’s plan to raise money for water infrastructure), the only way I can avoid paying more is to spend less money in the city of Wichita, which is bad for the community.

City officials say that if we do not raise the sales tax, Wichita water bills will increase by as much as one third. Of course, everyone likes low rates, but if we need money for water supply infrastructure, can we really afford to keep our rates significantly lower than the national average?

According to the data provided by Black and Veatch’s study, it would appear that we can raise water rates by one third and still pay less for our water than the majority of other cities.

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