Vol. 15 Issue No. 8 | February 25 – March 3, 2009

Water customers brace for first rate hike in over 20 years

By Linda Bentley | February 25, 2009

‘It should be a criminal offense to raise rates by that amount

CAVE CREEK – The Feb. 17 public hearing for the first reading of an ordinance to adopt the water advisory committee’s recommendations to amend the town’s water rates, to become effective April 13, attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

Ralph Mozilo, chair of the water advisory committee, explained Cave Creek water customers have not had an increase in rates since 1986, while Desert Hills water customers last saw an increase in 1989.

The recommended base rate would be $50 for most residential customers.

The proposed five-tier rate structure is as follows for all residential and commercial customers with up to 1.5 inch meters:
Tier Rate per 1,000 gal
1st (0-10,000 gallons) $3.25
2nd (10,001-20,000 gallons) $4.50
3rd (20,001-30,000 gallons) $5.75
4th (30,001-50,000 gallons) $7.50
5th (over 50,000 gallons) $9.25

Replacement costs of old water lines on the west side of Black Mountain were the only improvements incorporated into the new rates.

The average residential water bill will increase by approximately 41 percent for Desert Hills customers and could double for Cave Creek customers, while some commercial accounts could triple.

According to Marlow, improvements to the system have provided reliability with adequate pressure to deliver 2,000 gallons per minute to fight fires without affecting service to customers.

Citing fees do not cover the town’s costs to purchase, operate and install equipment, Marlow said, “The water system needs to pay for itself. The town should not have to subsidize the cost.”

Mozilo said the increases are necessary, the committee structured rates to level the playing field for everyone and commercial customers should look at it as a “cost of doing business, just like fuel charges.”

During public comment, Betsy Wise suggested incremental increases over the next five years instead.

Ray Veres took issue with some of the numbers and said, “In my case it’s double. I can’t conserve any more.”

David Bartusiak said, “I’ve lived here 30 years. I’ve fought for my country and I’m on Social Security. We’re looking at an increase of $50 for water … We need to do something for senior citizens.

Claiming the Arizona Corporation Commission would never approve an increase of more than 10 percent, Sonja Lockman stated, “It should be a criminal offense to raise rates by that amount.”

Gary Kiernan shared a tale about a water leak that saturated his property for four months until he eventually dug up his yard, exposing the leaky pipe as the town’s obligation to repair.

Kiernan said, “My point is this, if you are going to more than double my water rates, and I believe you have little choice, in the future, you damn well better behave like a grown-up water company when it comes to customer service.”

Charles Spitzer congratulated the utility department for doing a rate study and said, “But you’re supposed to do it before you spend money.”

Spitzer said he took exception to the clause that allows the town manager to hire/fire committee members.

David Phelps, who attended some of the water committee meetings, said, “I applaud Ralph Mozilo. He’s done a stellar job.”

Janet Mohr said, “I feel good about being able to put a fire out. J. George did no improvements. He put in fire hydrants that didn’t work.”

Bob Moore stated, “I’m not just a dark sider, I’m a charter member,” and called the increases “absolutely necessary.”

Rod Stewart said, “We’re a high user with animals and dust control. We’re being punished for doing what you want us to do with dust. I have 14 acres. I was told to put in a two-inch line.”

Mary Williams directed her comments to Mayor Vincent Francia about meetings he held a few years ago about buying the water company, and said, “You told us we wouldn’t have to do this. You lied to us.”

Councilman Ernie Bunch said, “I don’t know where that man went or where he winters here from, but the town has laid people off, cut employees back to 32 hours … I apologize to everyone,” as he moved to approve the first reading.

Councilman Dick Esser seconded the motion, stating, “Water is our future and it shouldn’t be owned by anyone other than you.”

Meeth asked, “With a finite amount of CAP water, should we be giving CAP water away to stand pipe customers?”

Attorney Marvin Cohen responded, “Since you are not using your full CAP allocation, I would think you would want to make money any way you can.”

Meeth then requested the billing due date be changed to 30 days from the current 15 days and said, “I’m not going to support this. We need to have an independent financial analysis done.”

She read a statement from Vice Mayor Gilbert Lopez, who was absent due to illness, saying he too opposed any rate increases without first having an independent financial analysis done.

Councilman Thomas McGuire pointed out cut backs staff has made to their pay and hours, and said, “It’s not only a sign of hard times, but also a sign of dedication.”

Responding to questions about the town’s purchase of the water company, Francia said, “We went after the water company as a means of controlling the town’s future. Did we know how bad it was? No.”

Francia then said, “Mrs. Williams, I did not lie to you three years ago. I simply didn’t have a crystal ball. I haven’t read anything by anyone saying they saw this coming.”

Francia reminded citizens they too voted for the $50 million bond for the water company and wastewater treatment plant.

As council voted 5-1 (Meeth dissenting) approving the first reading, Francia said, “The town has cut and it’s going to be very austere for the next couple of years. This is to get us through the immediacy of our debt.”

Photo by Linda Bentley: During last Tuesday’s public hearing on water rate increases, Gary Kiernan told council about his ordeal attempting to prove the water leak saturating his back yard for four months was the town’s responsibility, urging the town to improve its customer service.