Paradise Valley resident sewer concerns garner local council support

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. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Support has emerged on Paradise Valley Town Council for a group of residents fighting what they say are unfair sewer charges assessed by the city of Phoenix.

Paradise Valley Town Council held a study session discussion Thursday, Oct. 27 at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, to hear consternations residents have regarding sewer fee assessments by the neighboring municipality of Phoenix.

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.

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.

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.

Last 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, has gone on the record with the Independent saying Phoenix sewer rates are second lowest among the 20 largest cities in the nation.

But through an analysis done by the Town of Paradise Valley it has been discovered that Paradise Valley residents are being charged a 50 percent surcharge by the city of Phoenix to take away wastewater.

The town, earlier this year, negotiated an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Scottsdale for a 10 percent surcharge to provide the same service for sewer pipes owned by Paradise Valley.

However, the Town of Paradise Valley does not own the pipe that serves the portion of town where the Camelhead North community is situated.

A paradigm shift

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke, who led the Oct. 27 work session discussion, says Phoenix calculations for sewer service are in line with national trends.

“Sewer flow is estimated and that is the heart of the problem,” he said during the discussion. “It is not financially viable to meter sewer flow on a house-to-house basis. The industry typically uses winter water usage.”

Mr. Burke points out the practice is widely used as winter water usage is typically minimal throughout the country — except the Sonoran Desert where the Phoenix metropolitan area happens to be supplanted.

“But here you can water all you want during that time and no water will go into the sewer system — that was something we also discovered,” he pointed out. “Paradise Valley residents are also charged a 50 percent surcharge for the service.”

0413TPV News Story (Sewer 1)Mr. Burke points out conversations with the city of Phoenix regarding an examination of established sewer fee assessment practices has not been met with open arms.

“The conversations have been pretty much, ‘OK, thanks,’” he said pointing out Phoenix officials fear any kind of change to the established system could call into question the entire rate structure for a major municipality.

“They are a little reluctant to do this because they (the city of Phoenix) believe this could open the entire the rate case. Would the town be interested in buying the Phoenix Collection System? But we don’t have any employees in public works that are out there maintaining our own sewer system.”

The idea of approaching the Arizona Legislature has been brought up, but town officials appear reticent to take that approach first.

“I think for good intergovernmental relations, we should start with Phoenix,” he said. “Setting rates is certainly within the power of the governing body. If they had the political will they (Phoenix City Council) could absolutely set it.”

Mr. Burke says for this to change in Paradise Valley, a “total paradigm shift” would have to occur for how the neighboring municipality charges outside ratepayers.

‘A progressive tax’

Paradise Valley resident Gary Edens, president of the Camelhead North Homeowners Association, contends the city of Phoenix knows exactly what it is doing.

“The truth of the matter is this is a progressive tax,” he said during the work session discussion. “We are being gouged because we live in Paradise Valley. There is a lot of ‘wink-wink’ going on down there and they really believe this is a progressive tax.”

Mr. Edens says he has exhausted every avenue a resident can take to seek change.

“We continue to need your assistance at the executive level to stop the overcharging and perhaps pursue legislation,” he explained to the council.

“Why are the people at the Phoenix water service charging their Paradise Valley sewer customers four to five times more than their Phoenix customers? Because they can. And, no one has been able to stop them. Yet.”

Each member of town council was sympathetic to the issues expressed by Mr. Eden but next steps remain a mystery.

Options on the table include: doing nothing, purchasing the Phoenix Collection System or pursuing a legislative change to sewer assessment through the city of Phoenix and through the Arizona Legislature.

“To me that seems like a very expensive endeavor and one given the precedent of enterprises funds … we would be looking at having residents contributing money to acquire the system for select residents,” said Mayor Collins of potential financial roadblocks.

It is unlikely the town pursue purchase of the Phoenix Collection System; however, Councilman Jerry Bien-Willner offered a legislative change that could be achieved at the local level — a cap on assessment fees.

“Looking at it from a Phoenix perspective, and we are all here to represent the Town of Paradise Valley, we are outside their boundaries the same way that they want to a good neighbor, but they are also looking out for their best interests here,” he said of trying to understand the Phoenix perspective. “If it is a cap for everybody then it is hard for the city of Phoenix so lets define that so it will probably be more fair for people in Phoenix as well.”

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

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