Paradise Valley looks to educate residents on nuances of Phoenix sewer system calculation

The drumbeat of local support is becoming amplified as a group of Paradise Valley residents continue their fight to gain fair and equitable sewer fee assessments from the city of Phoenix. (File photo)

For Town of Paradise Valley residents who are on the city of Phoenix sewer system, their average annual rate calculations will soon begin in January, town officials say.

Additionally, Phoenix has an appeals process that residents can apply for annually.

Paradise Valley Town Council was briefed earlier this month on a problematic issue for certain residents: Their sewer bills coming from the city of Phoenix system.

On Dec. 6, Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland provided Town Council with an update to an issue unfolding for nearly two years.

Following a January 2016 Independent article outlining concerns from residents who claim their sewer bill reached hundreds and thousands of dollars, town officials want to educate residents on the usage and consumption system.

“The reason we wanted to take a moment to highlight this is for people on the Phoenix sewer system,” Ms. Buckland explained. “We wanted to make sure that everyone was aware that their charges for the upcoming year beginning on July 1 would be based on their usage and consumption for January through March.”

Dawn Marie Buckland, deputy town manager. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Ms. Buckland says that basically whatever water consumption for those three months is, 79 percent is used for the basis of water charges.

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.

“That becomes a very important issue if we’re doing over-seeding, for example, or if we’re doing any pool repairs. Those types of things where we’re utilizing a larger amount of water than we normally would be,” she said. “So, having that awareness that those particular months of consumption would be utilized to calculate the sewer assessment for the following year.”

Following the 2016 article, a lot of conversation ensued including meetings with residents and several meetings with the Phoenix deputy city manager and director of water services, Ms. Buckland says, noting that those discussions boiled down to the way sewer bills are calculated.

“Where it was problematic here for Paradise Valley residents is when you look at average lot sizes for Phoenix residents, it’s considerably smaller than the lot sizes in here in Paradise Valley,” she said.

In Paradise Valley, the minimum lot size is generally 1 acre.

The Phoenix sewer system has a base charge of $1, with a rate per centum cubic foot — or per one hundred cubic feet of water — of $3.71 and an environmental fee of about .83 cents.

“The result of that is you end up with a winter average for your typical 15,000 galls per month of about $91,” Ms. Buckland said. “That actually includes a 50 percent surcharge the city of Phoenix charges for nonresidents.”

The appeals process that residents can apply for annual needs to be submitted 60 days prior to the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The appeals form can be found on the city of Phoenix’s website. Ms. Buckland says items considered as part of that appeals process is:

  • Leaks
  • Pool filled or repaired
  • Irrigation
  • Square footage of landscaping area

“I think the one that really comes into play on a regular basis is that of the square footage landscaping area,” Ms. Buckland said. “For those on the Scottsdale system, it requires an inventory of trees and shrubs and things like that. City of Phoenix simply requires square footage of landscape area.”

Councilwoman Julie Pace says when she first was elected to council, she asked town staff to come up with a process to let residents know to separate their irrigation if they are remodeling or building on their lots.

Camelhead North Homeowners Association President Gary Edends with a community petition from 2016 about Phoenix sewer bills. (File photo)

“That takes care of some of the problem, you’re not mixing that count to be larger in volume for the bill,” Ms. Pace said. “Did we ever let our residents know that if they’re on Phoenix sewer they should be separating their irrigation?”

Ms. Buckland says she has had conversations about the topic. She says the process is two-fold, as people are developing it is something town officials have been sharing; and with residents who expressed concerns of their existing issues and have opted to separate the landscape meter.

“We also calculate with the town rate, it’s also based on winter average usage. It’s a little bit different because of how the rate structure is; you’re taking into account that most people do have a larger rate here in Paradise Valley,” she said.

“The impact is less in that particular case but it is a very real impact. People do often choose to have a separate meter even on the Paradise Valley sewer system — it absolutely helps.”

Ms. Pace pointed to sewer bills she saw two years ago, which she points out could be up to $10,000-$11,000 for the year. She suggested putting information on the town website or within the Paradise Valley Police Department’s welcome wagon for new residents.

“We’ve had the conversation, it’s not a requirement certainly, but it is an education process,” Interim Town Manager Brian Dalke said.

“That’s one we talked about internally. It’s like how do we work with residents that come in to give them that input.”

Councilman Paul Dembow suggested putting the appeals form on the town’s website as well.

Mayor-elect Jerry Bien-Willner says this is an issue that’s not yet been resolved for the residents.

“I think we’ll need to continue to work on it. I don’t know if there’s a way, a town Tweet or some other informational piece, that reminds folks to watch their water usage and be proactive with it,” he said.

“I know we tried with city of Phoenix to get some relief on this when Mr. Burke was here. No criticism of him, I think it fizzled out for lack of interest on the Phoenix side, but it’s still affecting our residents so whatever we can do.”

Ms. Buckland noted that she believes Phoenix was concerned about “trying to carve out Paradise Valley specifically” because they had recently completed a rate study. She said the city did leave the door open for a future rate study to take into consideration.

“I did get a notice from them that they’re looking to raise their water rates by 6 percent in order to deal with water shortages, they may have a rate case again soon,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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