Editors Note: Just prior to 1 p.m. today, the City of Belton released a statement in defense of its water/sewer rate increase request for the 2021 fiscal year. The 14 percent rate hike is part of a five-year plan to address the city's water infrastructure. A public hearing on the proposed budget is set for 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall Annex, 520 Main.
From the City of Belton
Every year Belton receives rate increases from Kansas City, Missouri, for water, and from Little Blue Valley Sewer District for use of its waste water system. The city of Belton has no control over the amount of these rate increases which are passed through to residents. While these charges pay for access to water and treatment of waste water, they do not pay for the replacement of our aging underground water system pipes.
In recent years, Belton’s elected leadership has had the political courage to support making needed investment in our city’s water system before we are in crisis rather than kick the can down the road. They chose to act now instead of leaving the burden of mounting costs and accountability to a future elected body and the children or grandchildren of today’s residents.
For example, in 2012, the city council recommended and voters supported bond issues that built a new city water tower, upgraded pump station connections that bring water from Kansas City and made improvements to the wastewater treatment plant and pump stations to protect water quality and meet new federal regulations. Council’s recommendation was based on the 2012 master plan for water, sewer and stormwater and research provided by a professional engineering firm with the assistance of skilled city staff.
These voter-approved bonds allowed for investment in improvements that increased water storage capacity and adequate water pressure for fire service, assuring residents that they would not experience water restrictions or that their homeowner insurance would not go up due to a compromised ability to fight fires.
The debt service on the $28 million in bonds, averages $17 per household per month, and is spread out over 25 years.
Belton has 135 miles of underground water system pipes. The city has been actively pursuing replacement of all older lines and nearly 60 percent of those pipes, or 80 miles of it, is newer replacement pipe made of PVC which has an estimated lifespan of 100 years. However, 25 miles of it is still aging cast iron or asbestos cement pipe that has exceeded its 60- to 80-year life span. These existing older pipes are responsible for 90 percent of the water main breaks in the last five years and must be replaced.
Though it varies according to type of break, location and time of year, the cost to repair one of these breaks in an emergency situation is much more expensive than when it is replaced in a planned and orderly fashion. When the replacement of an aging water pipe is planned, money is saved by not paying overtime or repairing more road, curb, sidewalks and other utilities than necessary, not to mention minimizing the inconvenience to business, residents and visitors.
In 2014, the city began budgeting out of its reserves up to $400,000 each year for water repair and replacement but the allocation has not kept up with the need and the reserves are nearly depleted. Replacement of these 25 miles of exhausted water line is projected to cost $1.36 million annually for 20 years.
The average Belton resident uses 4,000 gallons per month and this pay-as-we-go replacement initiative would add about $4 per month to that monthly bill in the first year. For residents using less, say the minimum 0 to 1,500 gallons per month, the monthly increase would be $1.38; for residents using more, at 6,000 gallons per month, the monthly increase would be $6.01 in the first year.
In the long run, the pay-as-we-go approach for aging underground water system pipe is more efficient than issuing more bonds (debt). With bonds, the city must use the money and act within limited time frames. This does not allow for the kind of prioritizing and planning best suited when traffic or service disruption is likely, or for coordination to fix other underground utilities at the same time while the street is opened up.
Pay-as-we-go also is a money saver in that planning lowers the cost of labor (no overtime or time-and-a-half as is often incurred in emergency water main break response) and of mobilizing equipment and other resources.
Residents have enjoyed the silent service of these aging water lines for decades but now they require attention. Delay in replacing this infrastructure will only increase future costs and risks. We can make the hard choice now to pay as we go or kick the can down the road.
Top photo: What looks like a small underground water system pipe leak was a
big problem on Mill St. near Colbern in Belton.
Lower photo: The City of Belton has 25 miles of cast iron or asbestos pipe
(pictured, example of a typical cast iron pipe), in immediate need of