Paradise Valley officials eye resolution to mucky sewer fees

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive in the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive in the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

Residents say they are awaiting word if anything is expected to change in what many believe to be an unfair practice of assessing sewer fees by the city of Phoenix for Town of Paradise Valley homes.

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.

Homeowners there say they are prepared to pursue litigation against the city of Phoenix if some kind of resolution is not found.

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke Friday, Feb. 19 met with Phoenix Deputy City Manager Karen Peters and Water Services Director Kathryn Sorenson to discuss concerns raised by residents of the Camelhead North Homeowners Association.

“We walked through how sewer rates are calculated for Paradise Valley customers. We talked about their appeal process,” he said March 2 of the February meeting. “We compared it somewhat to the Paradise Valley Sewer System and rate calculations — that was about the extent of it.”

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.

Mary Ling, Phoenix Water Services management assistant, says Phoenix sewer rates are second lowest among the 20 largest cities in the nation.

“Normally, water utilities meter the total amount of water that is delivered to a home, which includes both indoor and outdoor water use; sewer lines are not metered separately as this would be prohibitively expensive,” she said last January of the common issue with Paradise Valley ratepayers.

“Utilities, therefore, typically attempt to find an approximation of indoor vs. outdoor water use, so that sewer charges can be assessed based on indoor water use. It is common for utilities across the country to charge for sewer services based on a percentage of total water use that is meant to be an approximation of indoor water use.”

Paradise Valley resident Gary Keltner says the city of Phoenix is using both indoor and outdoor water usage as a determinate for sewer fees and thus is not treating Paradise Valley homes equally compared to other ratepayers in neighboring Phoenix.

“It all goes back to fact that they are using the city code to assess the sewer fees,” he said in a March 1 phone interview. “This may work for small lots in Phoenix with lower water usage but not in Paradise Valley.”

Mr. Keltner, a resident of Camelhead North, says for the past several years he has been forced to appeal his sewer rates with the city of Phoenix in order to get them reduced to a level he feels is fair and normal.

“I am not optimistic that there is going to be change,” he said. “It seems to me they are not even following their own code. There are all sorts of problems with that they are doing. Basically, the departments hands are tied. No one wants litigation and that is something we shouldn’t have to do.”

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms says she has been in contact with both Paradise Valley residents and a member of Phoenix City Council regarding sewer fee assessments.

Maria Syms

Maria Syms

“I was able to reach out to Sal DiCiccio (A Phoenix councilman) and we had a productive meeting regarding communication with the folks in Phoenix who are in charge of assessing those rates,” she said in a March 1 phone interview.

“Paradise Valley does not receive any of those fees. The problem our residents are having is that they have large lots and Phoenix assess sewer fees based on water consumption. Our residents are asking for more transparency and for recognition that much of their water use is going for landscaping and never enters the Phoenix sewer system.”

Councilwoman Syms says trust has been lost between the city of Phoenix and some residents of Paradise Valley.

“I think it is important for Phoenix to restore confidence in their calculation by offering more transparency on how they are charging Paradise Valley,” she said.

The e-mail has been set up for Paradise Valley residents to communicate on next steps to help find a solution to concerns around Phoenix sewer fees.

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