I have heard that City is charging a CSO Fee and isn’t making any progress on the corrections to the system.  Also, how can the city pay for quality life items like the dog park and the new trail with this liability?

 In Rumors

Thanks for the question!

First, here is a quick video introduction to CSOs, or combined sewer overflows, from Evansville, Indiana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_zjS87YObA

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in the early 1970’s, CSOs became much more regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in Kansas, by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). After the Clean Water Act was passed, federal grant and loan programs were offered to cities to help remediate their CSO issues. Some of those programs even offered 90% federal funding for sewer separation projects. Other CSO cities in Kansas, like Lawrence and Topeka, took advantage of federal funding through grant and loan programs to remediate their combined sewers decades ago. At the time, the City of Atchison, in addition to Kansas City, KS, and Kansas City, MO largely chose not to participate in those programs, fearing that the cost was too burdensome to residents and businesses.

Fast forward several decades to 2009. Atchison had not made much progress on the City’s CSO issues. In September of 2009, KDHE issued an Administrative Order that would have required the City to solve its $140 million CSO issue in just 20 years.  There are no longer federal funding programs to assist cities in solving their CSO issues, so 100% of the funding must be local. Projections from City staff showed that the City would have to raise utility bills to over $500 per month to comply with the order.  The City filed a notice of appeal and entered into a two-year process to negotiate a consent order.

In December of 2011, the City entered into a consent agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to remediate the City’s combined sewer system (CSO).  In the end, the City entered into an agreement that would allow the City to raise rates over five years from roughly $1.5 million a year to 2% of median household income, or $3.1 million per year, which is still a difficult burden on the community, but is much better than the $8.5 million per year that would have been required under the original Administrative Order. Some have used the term “unfunded mandate” to describe the CSO issue that our community is facing. Thirty years ago, this was a partially funded mandate, although our community chose not to participate in those programs. Today, it absolutely is an unfunded mandate.

The consent order will allow the City to solve the CSO issue over the next 40-80 years with the revenue that the City is required to collect.  The consent order is designed to allow the City to make progress on the CSO issue and to still be able to afford items that are important to quality of life for our citizens.

In April of 2015, the City started charging a CSO fee of $13.32 a month, and eliminated the City’s trash fee of $13.32 per month.   (The City is now paying for residential trash through the proceeds of the 1993 Sales Tax for solid waste and joint communications.) The proceeds from the CSO fee are put toward the City’s Sewer Fund to assist with funding CSO remediation projects and long overdue upgrades to the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Since signing the consent order the following projects have been completed:

4th Street Sewer Separation – 2012  $521,920

UltraViolet Light Treatment Process @ Waste Water Treatment Plant 2013  $1,128,139

Mechanical Bar Screen Installation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant 2015  $96,629

Grit Classifier, Pista Grit Pump, Conveyor System Replacement @ North Headworks Pump Station – 2015 $153,672

Secondary Clarifier Cover Installation – 2015  $60,000

Flood Gate Automation (Eliminates Dry Weather CSO Bypass) – 2016  $535,000

Trickling Filter Rehabilitation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant – 2018  $582,000

The following projects are either currently under construction or scheduled to be constructed later this year:

800 Commercial Streetscape (w/ CSO Separation) – 2018 – $1,018,000

Dam 6 Sewer Separation Project (Phase 1) – 2018 (estimated)

Primary Clarifier Rehabilitation @ Waste Water Treatment Plant – 2018 (estimated)

These projects are scheduled for the next few years:

Dam 6 Sewer Separation Project (Phase 2) – 2019 $1,000,000 (estimated)

Quality of Life Projects (Cost of Quality of Life Items from the Question)

Dog Park $22,735 (Actual Cost)

US-73 Trail Project $150,000 (Estimated Cost to City after netting out grant funds)

Updated April 25, 2018

Fire Truck at New Ambulance Station:   I heard that the City committed $100,000 for the new ambulance station to house a fire truck. Is this true?
Thanks for the question. The City Manager and Assistant City Manager had lunch with a now former County Commissioner, and talked about the future of EMS service in Atchison. During the course of the conversation, they were asked if there would ever be a need another fire station. The City officials responded that there was not currently a need and any need would be much further into the future. Asked where the future need might occur City staff responded it would be on the west side of town.

City officials never had any further conversations on the matter, and they were not asked to participate in any of the planning for the new facility. There was never any discussion of the City providing any financial support of a County EMS facility as the County was designing the facility.