The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Excelsior Springs Standard.
Excelsior Springs is a great place to live. However, not all is well in this town that was built on water. I’ve heard folks say they think our water rates are high. How do our rates actually compare to surrounding communities, though? And, if our rates are higher, what could we be doing differently?
To explore these questions, I looked at the city’s current and proposed water rates and compared them to 21 surrounding communities within a 40-mile radius. My analysis was based on the published combined water, sewer, and trash rates for 5,000 gallons of water usage per month, one trash bin, and recycling service.
According to the city, Excelsior Springs’ current rate for such a household is $137.66 per month. The city is proposing a (total) rate increase of approximately 17% (editor's note: this total increase is comprised of a 38% total increase on water rates, an almost 4% total increase on sewer rates and an almost 24% increase on trash), which would increase the rate for 5,000 gallons of water, plus sewer and trash service, for a month to $160.99.
The average rate for comparable water, sewer and trash service for the other 21 cities was $105.65, with a low of $70.35 in Cameron and a high of $140.82 in Odessa. That means our current rates are more than $32 per month, or over 30%, higher than the average of the other communities. The rate the city is proposing would be over $55 more per month, or over 50% higher.
Several of the communities currently have higher water rates, though our proposed rates would become the highest. And our sewer rates are higher than any other community, including Kansas City, which has been raising rates significantly over the past decade to resolve a 5 billion dollar consent agreement.
Our trash rates are also the highest of any of the communities that use a dedicated, contracted service. Curiously, Kearney uses the same provider, Allied Services, LLC, but has very different rates. Trash service in Kearney for one bin is $13.68 a month. Our rate is currently $19.27, with a proposed increase to $23.85. For two bins, trash service in Kearney is $16.22, while it’s $30.93 here in Excelsior Springs. With the proposed rate increase, our trash would go up to at least $35.51, which is almost 120% higher than Kearney. Kearney also has a biannual bulky item pick up as part of their service. Again, both cities have the same service provider.
The average household that uses 5,000 gallons of water a month here is already paying over $384 a year more than surrounding communities for comparable services. With the proposed increases, the average household will be paying over $660 a year more. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, that would be $19,800 extra our citizens are paying in Excelsior Springs for services comparable to other nearby communities. Over the course of 50 years, it would be $33,000. If that money were instead available to be invested by the household at a modest rate of return of 5% over 50 years, the end amount could be almost $150,000.
For people who are maxing out their retirement funds, $660 a year is less than 4% of their savings rate. A proposed rate increase wouldn’t be preferable, but those folks would probably be all right.
However, for Excelsior Springs residents like the 60% of Americans who don’t have emergency funds with at least $1,000, the money for the proposed rate increase literally isn’t there to be paid. Statistically, most of our friends and neighbors will have to cut back somewhere, whether that’s on water or, potentially, on some other necessity.
That’s one of the main reasons why previous rate increases have failed to bring in enough money to keep our water system revenue positive. And, that’s why a rate increase alone isn’t a sustainable solution now.
So, before raising water rates reactively now, I’m encouraging our city leaders to first reach out proactively to neighbors in surrounding communities who have found ways to deliver comparable services for significantly lower prices.
The proposed water rate increase seems like an attempt at a short term solution to what is a very long term challenge. After all, we somehow got to the place where our water service costs over 30% more than surrounding communities, and yet the extra $384 we already spend still isn’t adequate to cover costs. It is unlikely that raising our water rates to over 50% more than the rates similar communities pay for similar services will solve our problems, either.
I believe our city leaders are honest, smart folks who have the ability to solve our long term challenges. If there are reasons the costs to deliver water, sewer, and trash service are fundamentally different in Excelsior Springs than they are in surrounding communities, our leaders owe it to us to identify and share them.
If there aren’t tangible, specific reasons for our elevated rates, our leaders should focus their efforts on long term changes to our water, sewer, and trash services that can improve the financial picture for our current community and make Excelsior Springs a more attractive place for new residents and businesses. There are already at least 20 other communities within 40 miles from which we could learn. It’s time to start digging deep and reaching out to them for wisdom before raising rates.
Let’s hold our city leaders accountable. If you’re concerned about the proposed rate increase, you can make your voice heard at the next city council meeting on July 15th. I hope to see you there.