Water rates in Kansas City may soon go up, according to two ordinances just passed out of the city council’s Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee. Ordinance 200168 would increase water rates by five percent and Ordinance 200169 would increase sewer rates by two and a half percent. These are just the most recent increases in a years-long spike in city-run utility costs.
A 2017 KCPT documentary detailed the effect of the increases in water rates—240 percent since 2000—on many Kansas Citians, and the apparent inability—or unwillingness—of local leadership to do anything about it. All of this is due to a settlement with the EPA, which cited Kansas City for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act and forced the city to agree to extensive upgrades to its water and sewer system.
Taking the violations and the need to address them at face value, it is still fair to ask what is going on with the water department. How is it spending its money and are there opportunities to be more efficient? Here there might be an opportunity. In its 2019 endorsement of Quinton Lucas’s mayoral effort, The Kansas City Star editorial board quoted Lucas as saying at a prior candidate debate, “I’m not just open to a conversation on a state audit; I think we need a state audit of the water department.” This is welcome, especially since the previous mayor denied requests by the Missouri State Auditor to conduct an audit of the water department.
It may very well be that the city-run water department is a model of efficiency and that these frequent increases are necessary. If that is the case, there may be other opportunities to address rising costs in a way that does not so burden those among us who are at the most risk of losing service. Mayor Lucas, the city council, and indeed those at the water department should all welcome an audit, be it by the Missouri State Auditor, a private and completely independent firm, or both.