900 Paradise Valley residents paying ‘unjustified’ sewer bills

It appears little is changing in the effort to create an equitable process for the city of Phoenix to assess sewer fees for certain Paradise Valley residents. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

It appears little is changing in the effort to create an equitable process for the city of Phoenix to assess sewer fees for certain Paradise Valley residents. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

District 6 Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio says its going to take a united Paradise Valley front to move the local sewer fee assessment needle to within reasonable bounds for out-of-market customers.

A collection of Paradise Valley residents — it’s now estimated the issue impacts about 900 Paradise Valley property owners — have cried foul over how the city of Phoenix is assessing their sewer fees. They have met with both Phoenix and local officials, and appealed to elected leaders of both communities to find a resolution to what many believe to be exorbitant sewer fee assessments.

While nothing has changed, Paradise Valley residents say they will take the issue to court but will exhaust every attempt to avoid litigation in this matter.

Camelhead North Homeowners Association President Gary Edends with a community petition  for other local residents who too have concerns about Phoenix sewer bills. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Camelhead North Homeowners Association President Gary Edends with a community petition for other local residents who too have concerns about Phoenix sewer bills. (File photo)

Depending on where you live in the Town of Paradise Valley determines what entity handles the wastewater leaving your home. Paradise Valley residents have three options: Use a septic tank, use town services if within a certain geographical area, or sign up for the city of Phoenix sewer service.

The 71 homes within the Camelhead North Homeowners Association are provided sewer service by the city of Phoenix, but residents there say they are fed up with what many call “outrageous” sewer bills ranging from the hundreds of dollars to sometimes into the thousands.

In January, Phoenix city officials told the Town of Paradise Valley Independent sewer fees for residential customers is a percentage of winter — January through March — water usage used to estimate sewage flows and calculate monthly bills.

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms, who many in the community contend has been the spearhead in bringing elected leaders to the table of compromise, says she and Mayor Michael Collins met with residents Thursday, April 7.

“They are more than willing to pay what they consider to be fair service fees,” she said in an April 7 phone interview. “If you compare the charge to Paradise Valley residents versus the average Phoenix resident it is nearly five times higher on average without a five times higher usage of the sewer system.”

Councilwoman Syms says residents want a face-to-face meeting with Phoenix officials to resolve sewer fee concerns.

“They want to discuss with the city of Phoenix the issue of fairness and being charged comparably for comparable service,” she said. “We do not have an (intergovernmental agreement) with Phoenix like we do with Scottsdale for this service. So, we don’t have a contract with Phoenix that we could renegotiate — that is something we are discussing right now.”

Phoenix Councilman DiCiccio echoes many of the same sentiments expressed by Councilwoman Syms.

“It is clear that some of the Paradise Valley fees are quite excessive,” Councilman DiCiccio said in an April 5 phone interview. “I can understand charging a difference, what I don’t understand is these swings in fees — there is no justification for that.”
But frankly, Councilman DiCiccio says it is a policy matter that will likely have political winners and losers.

“It is going to require five members of the council if we want to change the service fee assessments,” he pointed out. “You have to reasonably fair, but I don’t think Phoenix wants to deal with this and I think it is going to be a very hard move for Phoenix to change this. It’s going to take five votes to change this. I am a ‘yes.’”

Councilman DiCiccio contends the fees assessed in Paradise Valley are exorbitant.

“It is so exorbitant that is hard to justify,” he said. “I am sure the justification is they live in Paradise Valley and they can afford it. But this is not a redistribution of wealth plan, this is a service delivery.”

Councilman DiCiccio says the Town of Paradise Valley is going to have to make this happen because the city of Phoenix, he says, is not interested in making exceptions.

“It is going to have to be their town council and their town manager,” he said. “They are just going to have to get into people’s faces and say, ‘this isn’t right.’”

Councilman DiCiccio says he can’t figure out how the city is figuring the Paradise Valley sewer assessments in question.

“There doesn’t seem to be a consistency to how they are being charged,” he said of the fees. “A normal person can’t figure out how this works. The model is created to make money in those areas, and quite frankly I don’t have issue with that, it’s just the disparity that is too high. It just doesn’t pass the smell test as we are a monopoly in this instance.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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