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More Belton residents report high water bills, petition to audit city

Posted at 7:11 PM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 20:11:23-05

BELTON, Mo. — After 41 Action News aired a story about high water bills in Belton, more residents have spoken out about theirs.

On Friday, Keiona Williams told 41 Action News about the issues she has been dealing with for a few months. She was shocked to receive an $866 bill in December.

An anonymous donor saw the story and paid off the Williams family's bill because they said they felt called to help.

Others shared the same shock online, talking about their expensive bills that seemingly came out of nowhere. One resident, Stephanie Fuhriman, said her family’s water bill has increased to roughly $450 over the course of six years.

Even for a family with six children, Fuhriman felt that was way too high, because they'd averaged a little more than $100.

Fuhriman said she monitors all the bills closely, and started to notice the bills inch higher. She thought that her children taking showers might have been the cause, so they started timing their showers and buying water jugs. When the bills remained in the $220 to $300 range, she wondered if the city wasn’t checking the meters correctly.

Usually, the city does drive-by meter readings. The meter reader holds an electronic device that automatically gathers the readings from a nearby meter as they drive by.

"We’ve had a couple little leaks, but nothing to make a dramatic change like that on our bill," Fuhriman said. "I think there is something wrong that water is that high."

The city is raising the water rates in April by 10 percent. Belton purchases its water from Kansas City water services, which also is raising its rates by 4 percent. The city will impose increases the next four years after that as follows:

FY 2021: 10 percent
FY 2022: 8 percent
FY 2023: 8 percent
FY 2024: 3 percent
FY 2025: 2 percent

After the fifth year, the city will re-evaluate any further increases.

KCMO charges Belton these rates for water:

Restricted water = $2.27/ccf
Unrestricted water = $2.35/ccf
First Repump = 20 cents/ccf
Second Repump= $0.28/ccf
(ccf = 7.48 gallons of water)

Sheila Ernzen, Belton's finance director, said customers can expect to pay $3 to $15 more per month.

The increase, according to the city, will pay for much-needed water pipe replacements. The current pipes are around 75 years old.

The water issue has made way for a larger initiative of residents who have long complained that they don't know how their money is being spent. Art Ruiz, a former developer, said there is a “lack of transparency.”

“The citizens believe there are alternative sources other than the water-rate hikes," Ruiz said.

Ruiz and a group of residents are trying to obtain 1,300 signatures to call for a state audit of Belton, including the water department. They are halfway there.

The group will hold a petition signing at 5 p.m. outside city hall before Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Belton already is audited annually by independent CPA firm Troutt Beeman & Co.

Ernzen said she understands why people would be upset about rate increases.

"But they'll be more upset if they're having to boil their water and they try to go brush their teeth in the morning and make breakfast for their kids and there's no water available," Ernzen said. "We're trying to prevent that from happening."

The city council will hear public input at 6 p.m. Tuesday about its upcoming fiscal budget, which includes the water rate increase.

"You can’t justify spending that much money on water and then you can’t do anything about it," Fuhriman said. "And then it’s just going to continually go up. I’m going to have to move. I love living here in Belton."