"We want to make sure people know what effect this would have, so that they can express their concerns to their legislators if they have any."
Kansas officials are looking for ways to shore up the state budget and provide adequate funding for schools. One proposal is to add a fee on utility bills, that would be used to bolster education spending.
The preliminary bill, which has not received a formal number yet, originates in the senate and would add a $3 fee on all residential utility accounts and a $10 on all commercial or industrial utility retail customer accounts.
However, some utility companies are concerned about how those fees will stack up, particularly for larger entities with multiple accounts.
"Our concern is how it will affect our customers," said Tim Maier, general manager for McPherson's Board of Public Utilities. "We want to make sure people know what effect this would have, so that they can express their concerns to their legislators if they have any."
BPU issued a news release on May 8 outlining some of the key provisions in the bill so far. If the bill is passed, utility companies will be responsible for collecting the fees and sending them to the state treasurer beginning July 1. The fee is not considered a rate increase.
Both BPU officials and legislators who represent McPherson County say that while the $3 fee is small, it can add up quickly because it applies to each utility and account.
"The average home owner would pay $3 per month each on electric, water, and gas — or $9 total per month," said Les Mason, who represents most of McPherson County in the Kansas House of Representatives.
For entities like the city of McPherson that provide multiple utilities to many different services, the fees could stack up even higher.
"The fee is assessed per account, and the city has over 200 accounts," Maier said. "When you consider all the street lights and parks, every one of those could see a $10 charge."
Maier also said a $3 fee on residential water bills represents a 10 percent increase on an average water bill of $30 each month for a McPherson resident.
"For many who are on fixed incomes, this would be quite a percentage increase," Mason said. "Plus, I think the regulatory and paperwork burden on utilities — that, in some cases, are municipal and quite small — would be extreme."
Kansas Sen. Rick Wilborn said that while this proposal is getting some attention, it's not the only one being discussed. Most revenue-generating ideas are still in the beginning stages, so it's unclear how any final product will work.
"This utility fee has strong proponents and opponents," Wilborn said. "Everyone is looking for revenue to dedicate to schools, so all kinds of ideas are floating around."
Rep. Don Schroeder, who represents Moundridge in the Kansas House of Representatives, said for now, legislators are trying to find a funding idea most people find acceptable.
"Of course it would raise a fairly significant amount of money for education, but the proposal seems to be pretty unpopular so I have been hearing very little about it lately," he said.