Mark Taylor
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Gardner’s BPU Exploratory Committee is several weeks into its mission of studying the pros and cons of a Board of Public Utilities that would manage the city’s water, wastewater and electric utilities.
The committee, which is chaired by Councilman Chris Morrow, was formed to study the BPU concept, determine whether it is a worthwhile concept and if so, make a recommendation to the city council.
Gardner runs its own water, wastewater and electric utilities.
During its Nov. 28 meeting, the committee heard a presentation on the operations of Rural Water 7 from that utility’s manager Alan Soetaert and board president Bill Gay.
Rural Water 7, which surrounds Gardner’s city limits, is governed by a nine-member board that is elected by the district’s 2,200 patrons.
Each board member is limited to one-three year term and then must sit out a year before serving again.
The district has two water supplies. Olathe provides about 30 percent of the district’s water and Hillsdale, about 70 percent.
Six employees maintain and oversee about 110 miles of pipe.
Rural Water 7 has eight interconnections with neighboring communities, including Gardner and Edgerton that allows each to provide water to the other in emergency situations.
Gay said the independent board is mostly void of politics and is focused specifically on the mission of running the utility.
“Everything we make goes back into the system,” he said. “And if we are out of money we have to get that out of the system, too.”
Councilwoman Kristy Harrison, who also serves on the committee, said it is sometimes awkward for the city council to manage utility rate increases in addition to the mill levy.
“It is overbearing,” she said. “I don’t think it (utility rates) gets the focus it needs,” she said.