The increase in rates over the past two decades has climbed, but the comparison to the bill then versus now is not a clear-cut one.
The capital and operating rates are now combined into a single rate because we changed our capital rate methodology to be the same as our operating rate, which is based on water use. This change means it is not possible to accurately calculate the percentage increase of rates when comparing current rates to those charged prior to 2014 without assistance from JCW staff.
The user charge rate prior to 2014 did not include a capital component as it does today. To accurately compare rates, you have to include the capital portion of JCW’s rates. Prior to 2012, capital costs were recovered by the fixed Equivalent Dwelling Unit (EDU) charge that was billed on the annual real estate tax statements. In 2013, JCW moved the EDU from the tax roll to the user charge bill.
In 2014, JCW completed a multi-year conversion of its billing method to a unified rate model. This was the first year JCW billed a combined rate and the larger than normal increases in the service charge and volume rates were due to adding the capital component to the rates.
There are several reasons for annual rate increases. They include:
- Inflation – The industry sees increased costs to do business, including costs for power, chemicals, solids disposal and labor costs.
- Water quality compliance requirements is another driver of increased costs. Because the water is returned to streams, river, etc. once it has been treated, the EPA continues to increase regulatory requirements to protect public health, protect the environment and ensure clean water. For example, JCW has been directed to uphold:
- New ammonia release criteria for area waterways, which will provide better protection for fish and other aquatic life.
- Increased nutrient removal requirements. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus facilitate algae growth which results in the oxygen depletion that affect fish and other aquatic life in local streams and lakes as well as larger downstream water bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico where large fish kills have occurred over the last several decades.
Continued investment in preventive maintenance – Unlike many utilities, JCW has a fiscally responsible and proactive asset management, maintenance and repair program that helps keep the cost of operating and maintaining the wastewater system lower by avoiding expensive repairs and clean-up costs resulting from deferred maintenance of sanitary sewer pipes and wastewater treatment equipment. By reinvesting in our aging system, JCW has significantly reduced the occurrences of collapsing pipes and public health issues from back-ups and raw sewage overflows. By investing a little at a time you get more out of the system by improving the durability, life and reliability of the county’s assets, thus lessening the impact to rates.
In 2018, JCW’s revenue requirement increased by 7 percent, which equates to $2.38 a month for the median household or $4.76 on each bi-monthly bill. The revenue requirement represents the total amount of money JCW must collect from customers to pay all costs. This increase is higher than those in previous years due to several factors as well as the Tomahawk Plant expansion, which will help keep rates lower once the project is completed in 2022. We are investing now to save more over the long term.
Residential charges are determined by multiplying the annual volume of average winter water usage (AWWU) by the rate and adding the customer service charge [(Volume x Rate) + customer service charge = Amount]. This amount will be divided by 12 calendar months, which will give you your monthly charge. Since residential customers are billed bimonthly, your bill has two months' worth of wastewater charges.
The AWWU is your average water usage during winter months based on meter readings. This is the best measure of the volume of drinkable water used at the property during the winter months that reasonably estimates the volume of wastewater discharged to the wastewater treatment facilities of Johnson County Wastewater. By using winter water usage, Johnson County Wastewater can accurately estimate the volume of wastewater discharged into the treatment facilities by each property. Winter water usage is used to avoid charging for heavier summer uses that do not impact the wastewater treatment system like watering your lawn and garden, washing your car, or filling your swimming pool.
A large increase in your average winter water use (AWWU) will impact wastewater charges more than rate increases.
JCW’s rates are among the lowest in the metro and have been consistently so for many years because we have pro-actively reinvested in our system with activities such as repair, replacement and preventative maintenance. Our collection system is a huge investment worth $1.7 billion. See how JCW compares to other wastewater utilities. (Rate comparison chart for 2018.)
The expansion and upgrade of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility is only one of several factors that causes rate increases every year. By increasing the size of the plant, we will no longer need to send 60 percent of our wastewater which is treated at the Tomahawk Creek facility to Kansas City, Missouri, for treatment, allowing us to better control our costs and be much more efficient. Therefore, the Tomahawk Project will significantly lessen the amount of rate increases in the future.
Once the project is completed, we will be saving approximately $16 million annually by not sending flow to KCMO and paying them to do the treatment. Over a 35 year period, it will save JCW hundreds of millions of dollars. Without the improvements to Tomahawk, significant savings would not be possible in the future because we would continue to pay KCMO for treatment, and this would result in much higher annual rate increases for customers.
(Please visit the Tomahawk project page for more information).
There are several factors affecting the cost of cleaning wastewater, including energy, chemicals, and reinvestment in the collection and treatment systems. Pollutants in the wastewater must be removed to ensure the protection of public health, aquatic life and the environment before returning it to the environment. The cleaned water must meet water quality requirements.
The treatment process not only eliminates disease-causing bacteria to protect the environment for human and aquatic life, but also removes other elements such as ammonia, which can be harmful to fish, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients can cause excessive algae growth in streams, rivers and lakes.