The Stars recommendation | Bonds will help KC solve its sewer problems
So just how much should you have to pay to flush a toilet in Kansas City in the next few years?
Theres no escaping that its going to be pricey.
If voters approve $500 million in revenue bonds on Aug. 7, the citys sewer rates would nearly double over the next five years. The city would then borrow money to finance a federally mandated program to upgrade its leaky, environmentally unfriendly sewer system.
But the other choice available to voters rejecting the bonds would be even more costly. And its thus unacceptable.
Without using bonds, sewer rates would soar by 135 percent in just the next two years. The rapid rise in charges would be necessary for the city, on a pay-as-you-go basis, to raise enough funds to begin making required upgrades.
That would mean the average residential customer would pay an additional $1,250 over a five-year period starting in 2013 or $250 extra each year.
This option would impose tremendous and immediate costs on all who depend every day on the citys sewer system, including tens of thousands of residents in Johnson County. It includes homeowners as well as private businesses ranging from day-care centers to hospitals to restaurants.
For these and other reasons, The Star supports a yes vote on Question 2, authorizing the city to issue $500 million in revenue bonds.
• Borrowing the money at a time when interest rates are near record lows make sense. It reduces the amount of interest the city will have to pay back over 20 to 25 years.
• Improving a basic, long-term asset is a proper use of bonds. The new tunnels, pipes, pumping stations and other upgrades will last decades. The public will be paying for these assets for the next few decades, but will also benefit from a better sewer system for that time period and even longer.
• Carrying out the consent decree that Kansas City worked out with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, among others, is mandatory. City Hall has to make the sewer improvements or face stiff penalties.
• Finally, repairing and replacing large parts of the citys sewers is the right move to make to help improve the local environment.
As the city has conceded, sewage overflows (mostly during heavy rains) have polluted local waterways for decades. They have imperiled the health of humans, animals and fish.
Many other large cities are boosting their sewer rates for similar programs, prompted by court orders or consent decrees worked out with the EPA.
Last month, 85 percent of voters endorsed a request by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to issue $945 million in revenue bonds for improvements. St. Louis authorities had threatened to hike rates by 123 percent this year to start making the repairs on a pay-as-you-go basis if the bonds were defeated.
Passage in Kansas City might not be nearly as overwhelming, though.
Thats because the Kansas City Water Services Department for too long has been poorly run, failing to serve customers well and to make timely repairs.
Bill Downey, a former top electrical utility executive and a consultant brought in to improve the agency, recently reported that the situation is looking brighter. For example, the number of frustrated people who simply hang up on the citys call center because its taking too long to respond to their calls has dropped from a sorry figure of around 30 percent to under 10 percent.
Downey also points out that the department has put together a lengthy list of projects it has pledged to complete with the bond proceeds.
Borrowing money, then making immediate progress to reduce environmentally harmful sewage overflows, would be a wise investment in Kansas Citys future.