At an open house in west Wyandotte County Tuesday night, residents and business owners voiced concerns about proposed changes to their monthly water and electric bills.
Currently, everyone pays $4.50 a month for stormwater management — meaning the sprawling Legends outlet mall pays the same as the owner of a one-bedroom home.
Officials at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, want to change that, making the monthly payment proportionate to the size of the land.
But resident Greg Lucke, who lives on about an acre near Little Turkey Creek, would see his monthly cost go up by 400 percent.
"I'm not sure an increase is out of line at all, but I'm not sure (they) got the math right," he said. "If there's any drainage that comes off our property, it drains into a stream, which drains into the Kaw River. We don't have any issues."
The Unified Government says the new plan is intended to bring in more money from properties with more flooding, which tends to happen near non-residential properties because developed land does not absorb water as easily as undeveloped land.
Kim Thrasher has a house on the northern edge of the county and 25 acres that she says are undeveloped. She would owe nearly $1,000 a year under the new plan.
"Any water runs into creek beds or saturates into the land, and runs toward the floodplains of the Missouri River, so I really don't understand how they can justify charging me that kind of money for stormwater," she said.
County officials were on hand to walk the visitors through the plan and answer questions. Thrasher spent a long time talking with one official before filling out a comment card.
"Basically, the feeling I got is there's nothing we can do about it," Thrasher said.
"I asked her, 'So what am I getting as a resident and a taxpayer, this whole new giant fee I'm going to get every year?' She said, 'Well we can come down and educate you on how to take care of your creek,'" Thrasher laughed. "I've lived there for 20 years."
Thrasher works for the Kansas City, Kansas, public school district and she said, given that a majority of their students are poor enough to qualify for reduced lunches, she doesn't know how anyone in the county will be able to afford these costs.
Some business owners arrived Tuesday already alarmed at letters from the Unified Government that projected payments of up to $24,000 a year. They pay just $54 a year now. Some said the hikes could drive businesses out of the county. One woman from a trucking company in the area said her yearly payment would be dangerously close to the $70,000 she pays a year in real estate taxes.
But public works employees said the county needs more money for stormwater management. Engineer Sarah White said, at $5 million a year, the current budget simply isn't enough. In 2018, a project to install enhanced drainage systems in a 3-block radius of the Stony Point neighborhood cost nearly $4 million alone, White said.
"We feel there is more we can do for the community," she said. "With our current budget, we are not able to do that."
This restructuring would generate $10 million a year.
There's one more open house for community input Jan. 29 at the Patricia Diane Kane Community Center. After that, White said county officials will review and then submit community input along with their proposal to the Board of Commissioners, which will vote on it this spring.