Phoenix officials reconsider water-rate billing system

PHOENIX — Public outcry over a water-rate increase that took effect in August is prompting city officials to take a second look at the new rates.

Approved in July, the increase has resulted in bills that are running from 27 to 50 percent higher than usual for some residents.

A City Council workshop has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20, at the city's Public Works Annex, 1000 S. B St., to look at the matter.

Council member Stan Bartell said his business water bill increased 50 percent.

He sent a letter to fellow council members, Mayor Carlos DeBritto and City Manager Jane Turner this week urging that the increase be rescinded and bills reissued at old rates while the city figures out what happened.

Bartell said some of the confusion stemmed from the city changing its billing calculations from cubic square feet to gallons. Increases resulting from the change were expected to be minimal and affect primarily the city's heaviest water users.

"In all honesty, we councilors just took it from staff that this would be a more equitable way of billing," Bartell said.

"I agree people who use more water should pay a higher rate, but not double."

Under the old system, residents paid $31.40 for the first 700 cubic square feet of water (5,236 gallons) and $1.40 per 1,000 cubic square feet (7,480 gallons) beyond the base charge.

Under the new system, residents pay $28 for the first 2,000 gallons, $1.75 (per 1,000 gallons) for the next 8,000 gallons and $3.75 (per 1,000 gallons) beyond 10,000 gallons.

When the rate hike was approved, city officials said most residents use less than 10,000 gallons.

But Phoenix resident Karen Jones, who voiced concerns to City Hall this week, said many of her neighbors have received bills showing more than 10,000 gallons of water usage.

"I've collected information from 25-30 people so far showing their bills going up 27 percent or more," said Jones.

"The city told me bills would go up, on average, 8 percent over the year. Well, it's already 27 percent. And they barely mentioned rates going up. They just said they were going to start converting cubic feet to gallons."

Resident Bob Bailey concurred. "My bill for ... September 2009 was $64.66. And I used more water then. This one I just opened up says $99.61. This is ridiculous, especially since all they had was a little statement on the previous month's bill that all they were going to change was going from cubic feet to gallons.

"As far as I'm concerned, the whole city should be at their next meeting," Bailey said.

Resident Floyd Sherwood said his water usage increased by 17 percent for August while his bill jumped 30 percent.

"I don't know how they explain that but I'd like them to," Sherwood said.

DeBritto said last week that recalculation was in order.

"What it comes down to is we have a lot of people who are unemployed, laid off and retired, and this increase was devastating to them," Bartell said. "We have people doing vegetable gardens because times are tough, but you have them being hit with an exorbitant bill that says, 'Hey, it really doesn't do you any good to grow those vegetables to try and save money.' "

Monday's City Council workshop is open to the public. The Medford Water Commission will give a presentation on water rates to city officials, followed by a council discussion on the rate increase.

Buffy Pollock is a writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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