Kansas City Mayor Sly James, buffeted by criticism over sharply higher water and sewer rates in recent years, wants a task force to “take a closer look at the water needs of today’s customers and future generations” and how much they should cost.
This sounds familiar.
Mayor Kay Barnes appointed a commission to look into this issue about 15 years ago, and water rates were frozen for three years after that.
Great, right? Not exactly.
While Barnes had good intentions — she wanted to make sure the city was giving residents good services at reasonable prices — the end result was a near-disaster.
The rate freeze, plus other problems, combined to prevent the city from having enough funds for several years to sell bonds to make needed repairs to water lines.
James’ panel meets for the first time Tuesday in what’s supposed to be a yearlong series of meetings. That’s plenty of time to discuss all the challenges the city faces, from fixing miles of leaking water lines to paying for the costly overflow control program meant to keep sewage out of local waterways.
Eventually, the panel should be in position next year to recommend to the City Council whether the Water Services Department should alter its current plans to keep increasing water rates — and sewer rates even more significantly — to pay for needed upgrades.
The task force must closely examine all the reasons given right now for the predicted rate increases. Could the city somehow trim them by reducing how many miles of water lines are repaired? Could the city convince the federal government to give it more time to pay for the sewage overflow program?
It took the water department years to recover from the rate freeze imposed in the early part of the prior decade. The new task force needs to avoid creating that kind of crisis. But it also must diligently look for financially sound ways to control future water and sewer rates.