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City 'losing' millions of gallons of water

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Two million gallons a month.

Sound like a lot of water?

That’s the amount of “unaccounted for” water apparently passing through the city of Platte City’s system every thirty days. That water loss is a primary reason the city is now faced with the prospect of raising its rates to customers.

To get an idea of the volume being lost, consider the tan colored water standpipe on the east side of the city holds 1.6 million gallons. In other words, the city has considerably more than a water tower’s worth of H2O unaccounted for every 30 days.

“The impact of your water loss is the significant factor,” in the proposal to raise rates, Keith Moody, city administrator, told the board of aldermen in a special budget meeting Tuesday night.

Officials have not been able to determine where water is being lost within the system. Leonard Hendricks, public works director, said he has walked the water lines in open pastures and found no signs of leakage. No residents have apparently reported large amounts of standing water that would indicate line leakage.

“Don’t you think we should get to the bottom of this before we consider a rate hike?” Asked Andy Stanton, alderman.

“I don’t know that you can (wait),” Moody responded.

On a percentage basis, the two million gallons “lost” per month represents more than 15% of the total water the city purchases from its supplier, the city of Kansas City, per month.

“In the last 12 months we’re at more than 15% water loss,” Moody said. Prior to that, the city had been running at less than 5% loss per month.

The meter measuring how much water the city is buying from Kansas City has been switched in recent months. It could have been the old meter was faulty--in Platte City’s favor. It could be the new meter is faulty--in Kansas City’s favor. Tests on the meters are being run.

In the meantime, the city is getting a company to come evaluate its system and perform a more thorough check for leaks in lines.

When the old meter was in use, Moody said there were three consecutive months in which the city sold more water to its customers than the amount of water the city purchased from Kansas City.

“That’s not possible,” Moody said, indicating he believes the old meter was malfunctioning in a way that financially benefitted Platte City.

In addition to the water loss issue, Kansas City has increased its rate to Platte City over the past couple of years and those increases have not yet been passed on to customers. Moody said that’s because a rate analysis the past couple of years didn’t indicate a need for a rate jump.
That presumably may have been due to the faulty meter leading to inaccurate data.

A couple of water rate increase options were discussed by the board on Tuesday. Moody initially proposed a 60 cents per 1,000 gallons increase to customers. He then presented the aldermen with another option--a 30 cents per 1,000 gallons increase this year followed by another 30 cents per 1,000 gallons increase next year.

After discussion, the majority of aldermen indicated a desire to spread the increase over two years.

Moody said the water fund could withstand the two year implementation of a rate hike because the fund has strong reserves.

A proposed increase in sewer rates needs to be put in place immediately, Moody remarked. The sewer fund is not strong enough to go with a two-year implementation plan, he said. The proposed sewer hike is 35 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used.

In addition, Platte City customers should start bracing themselves for an increase in trash rates. Moody initially proposed a $2.45 hike per month for residential refuse sevice. The board preferred phasing in the increase, tacking on $1.25 per month this year and a $1.20 per month next year.

Commercial curbside trash customers will face an increase of 85 cents per month in their fee, according to Moody.

Moody said in a rate comparison with surrounding communities of Kearney, Smithville, Weston, Parkville, Tracy, and Platte Woods, Platte City would still have lower total charges for water and sewer than any of the other cities. That comparison is based on an average use per customer of 6,000 gallons per month, which Moody said is Platte City’s average usage per customer.

All the above rates, if approved by the board when the budget is officially approved in September, would take effect on Nov. 1 of this year. The city’s fiscal year runs from Nov. 1 to Oct. 31.

In other financial matters discussed by aldermen Tuesday night, the board agreed to keep the tax levy at $1.0095 for fiscal year 2009.

Somewhat surprisingly, Platte City’s assessed valuation in 2008 has shown a decrease for the first time since 1995.

“The downward trend is very telling,” Moody said.

In an interview with The Landmark, Moody said he believes several factors, including the current housing market, play a role in the city’s drop in assessed valuation, a decline of 1.21%.
“The method that the county uses to assess and reassess home values is based upon the market and the market has seen a decline. Therefore, the assessor reflects that in their numbers,” Moody said.

As for new construction, Moody pointed out the city of Plate City has not issued a new single family building permit in three years. He said that’s due to a lack of available lots within the current city limits.

Moody said a small growth in the overall assessed value of commercial property in the city was offset by the removal from the tax rolls of the Stiles Building. When the Platte County R-3 School District purchased the Stiles property for a little under $2 million, it took significant assessed valuation off the tax rolls, as real estate owned by public entities is not taxable.

“This offset a gain in commercial assessed valuation growth and made it a wash,” Moody said.

Earlier this summer, the public works director and other staff members had asked aldermen to consider going to a four day work week for city employees in an effort, they said, to save money on fuel and utilities. Hendricks estimated annual fuel savings for the public works department would be $9,500 by going to four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

The idea was not met favorably by the majority of aldermen who spoke on the topic Tuesday night.

Alderman Tony Paolillo said he had visited with an estimated 60 residents about the idea. All were adamantly opposed to city workers being available one less day per week.

“They said it needs to be a five-day-a-week job. They are big time against it. They see it as a decrease in services,” Paolillo said, adding he questions the accuracy of the claim the move would save $9,500 in fuel costs.

Stanton said the reaction he has received has also been negative. Alderman Debbie Kirkpatrick said residents she has spoken with have indicated a desire for the city to keep five day work weeks plus add half a day on Saturday or work late one evening per week so people who work all day would have time to get their needs met by city hall.

Paolillo pointed out the public would not likely be receptive to higher water, sewer and trash rates at the same time the city would be going to four day work weeks (three-day weekends) for its employees.

After discussion, it was decided to allow staff to continue to investigate the possibility, but it was made clear any move would need approval by the aldermen and would require significant changes to the city’s personnel policy.




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