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Higher rates tax top water users




Hays city commissioners approved a tough new water billing structure Thursday night -- one commissioners hope will send a "wake-up call" to the city's top water users.

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Hays city commissioners approved a tough new water billing structure Thursday night -- one commissioners hope will send a "wake-up call" to the city's top water users.

The new second conservation tier billing structure, which will go into effect Aug. 1, will affect Hays' top 20 percent of residential water customers and is intended to put the brakes on excessive outdoor water use.

During the summer, Hays' water customers use approximately 3.8 million gallons of water a day, a 2 million gallon per day increase from the average daily water usage during winter months. The city's current two-tier billing system, said Assistant City Manager Paul Briseno, doesn't truly address the amount of the city's water supply that's poured out on residents' lawns.

"It does not reflect our limited or strained resources," Briseno told city commissioners. "In an effort to curb water wasting and not hinder those customers that truly conserve or utilize water efficiently, we're recommending a second year-round conservation tier to be implemented to our current system.

"What we found, looking at the water data we have on our residential customers ... 80 percent of our customers use water efficiently. However, we also understand that 20 percent of our residential customers consume 44 percent of our residential water."

The average Hays household, he said, uses 700 cubic feet, or 5,236 gallons of water a month during the winter months. Monthly water usage figures are included on Hays water billing statements.

"If you have summer water bills that are 1,500 cubic feet or less, you won't have to worry about the third tier, ever," said Nick Willis, city of Hays stormwater superintendent in a Thursday afternoon interview. "That will be the majority of households."

All water usage is billed using the base tier plus $1.80 per 100 cubic foot. Currently, the conservation tier allows for unlimited use at a price of $3.60 per 100 cubic foot for usage above the average. The new billing structure would charge $7.20 per 100 cubic foot for all usage exceeding the water average plus 1,000 cubic foot. In the event of a water warning or emergency, the second tier would be raised to $10 per 100 cubic foot.

Understanding some Hays water customers will have a negative reaction to the new billing structure, commissioners took a stern tone.

"One thing we know is the Big Creek wells within the city are stressed, and they're not being rejuvenated," said Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV. "There's no rain. We know that the Smoky has only been rejuvenated because of the water release from Cedar Bluff. That only puts us back to last October. If this continues another 12 months, we will not have any water. So if this (rate structure) generates 50, 100, 200 calls, I apologize. ... But it needs to be implemented now."

Hays water customers, particularly those in the top 20 percent, said Commissioner Eber Phelps, can take measures to reduce water usage.

"This is not a mandate," he said of the new rate structure. "We're not just hitting everyone with an additional billing.

"There are things (the top 20 percent) can immediately do to put themselves back with the other 80 percent."

City Manager Toby Dougherty said notification letters will go to Hays' water customers prior to the August change.

In other business, commissioners:

* Authorized Dougherty to renew the 2013-14 commercial insurance policy with Companion Commercial.

* Voted to approve a $621,506 bid from APAC-Kansas Inc. for rehabilitation of 13th Street from Vine Street to Harvest Road. Work on the project, which will include overlay and restriping from Milner to Harvest from four lanes to three lanes, will start at the end of July.

* Accepted the 2012 city audit as presented by Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball.

* Voted 4-1, with Mayor Kent Steward dissenting, to authorize a letter to the Kansas attorney general asking for a six-month extension from complying with the state's modified concealed carry law.

* Approved a one-year moratorium on accepting water service requests for properties outside city limits.