Some Wichita water customers will have a higher bill due to new meter-reader routes

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Some Wichita water customers will be getting a larger bill in March, but the City of Wichita said it is not because of a rate increase. Instead, some customers will have extra days added to the bill while the City changes some water meter-reading routes. Those additional days could add $5 to $10 to the March bill.

In 2016, the City went from having meter readers walk routes and use handheld devices to Automated Meter Reading (AMR). With AMR, meter readers can just drive by a meter to collect the data. With that method, there are currently 361 routes for reading 160,000 water meters across Wichita each month.

But last year, the City started to redesign the routes to be more AMR-efficient. So starting with the March bill, there will be 233 routes.

“This will improve our process by requiring fewer labor hours to complete the same amount of work,” Penny Feist, the Strategic Services Manager of Wichita Public Works and Utilities, said. “We’ll be able to get the same amount of work done by driving less vehicle miles which we know is not only good for the pocketbook but also good for the environment.”

The City said it considered these goals when redesigning the routes:

  • Based on 1-mile square sections
  • Eliminate overlapping of routes
  • Plan for new growth

Feist said the new system would also help water customers.

“There will be less time between when the water is used and when the water is billed,” she said. “This will help customers keep a closer eye on their water usage. If they have any leaks or questions, they’ll be able to refer back to maybe a week or two instead of three to four weeks.”

Feist said the typical Wichita water bill covers 28 to 32 days, with a regular household using about a dollar to $2 a day of water.

Some customers who are in one of the new routes may have more than 32 days on the bill that is mailed in March. So, if there are five extra days on the bill, the customer might have to pay $5 to $10 more.

“It’s important to note that this isn’t a fee,” Fesit said. “This is not a rate increase. It’s simply more days in the billing period than what is typical.”

She also said this could change when the bill is due.

“This is a one-time change, again, for the bill that’s mailed in March,” Feist said. “After that, the billing period should return to normal, and the new due date will carry forward.”

The City of Wichita will mail postcards next week to customers who are expected to see the change in their bills. The postcard will describe the changes and provide resources and more information.

The Wichita Public Works and Utilities website includes a lot of the information under its rates and fees section. Click here to visit the site.

Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said autopay accounts will automatically change to reflect the chances of the new due date.

“Most changes are expected to be minimal,” he said. “But, if changes cause you any hardships, staff can work with you on a payment plan or connect you to payment resources.”

Whipple said customers who have any issues with the new system or the March bill should call 316-265-1300.

We asked the City if any meter readers would lose their jobs because of having 128 fewer routes. Megan Lovely, City of Wichita communications manager, said no.

“We won’t be losing any job, just improving efficiencies. The employees that do this work also do lots of other jobs, like troubleshooting and replacing meters, turning water off/on for customers who have moved and other projects,” Lovely said. “Shifting these labor hours will help improve customer service and efficiencies in other areas of service.”

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