Concerns simmer over water rates; Council to vote Nov. 30

Water rates in Tempe may be going up, even though city officials at a recent public meeting tried to offer a splash of hope that newly approved increases, if any, won’t be as severe as some had feared.

The city of Tempe is expected to consider the water rate increase at a public hearing Nov. 30. 

Water rates in Tempe may be going up, even though city officials at a recent public meeting tried to offer a splash of hope that newly approved increases, if any, won’t be as severe as some had feared. Proposed water-rate increases were the topic of a meeting at which city officials did their best to explain the proposed hikes and dampened whatever confusion might have arisen as word of the increase spread.

After two public meetings in June and various focus groups, city officials found there was confusion and skepticism about the new rate changes for water bills, which is why the city held two more public meetings in September.

City of Tempe outreach received feedback that residents wanted more transparency in billing, as well as a comprehensive long-term water plan.

Some residents voiced concerns that went beyond their own bills.

“We are developing at such a rate that I have a difficult time believing that we are going to sustain,” Tempe resident Darlene Tussing said.

Tussing said she worries she is having to subsidize personal water use for new developments and such infrastructure as apartment buildings or multi-family residences.

Public Works Director Marilyn DeRosa replied that prices are based on the demand that each of these categories places on the water system, and therefore are fair and proportionate to each consumption group.

She acknowledged, however, that there is a lack of data collection from multi-family water use in places such as apartments.

“We have tons a data on how (residents) use water. What we don’t have tons of data on is how multi-family customers use water,” DeRosa told residents. “We plan to look more closely (at) how multi-family households use water, that will inform programs we can create for multi-family customers to conserve as well.”

The city implemented a rate study in 2016 to more accurately measure water consumption and sewage disposal after water-rate hikes were cancelled this year.

The study concluded that the city needed to increase water bills an overall average 4.25 percent in 2018.

At the city’s recently hosted public meetings on the proposed rate increases—the most recent of which was held at Tempe History Museum—about eight residents asked Tempe officials about the need for water bills to go up.

Steve White, planning and research analyst for Tempe’s Public Works Department, said the price increases are due to changes in the industry.

“We can look at the rate adjustments from 2015 that were at 4.75 percent, so these new adjustments are not particularly high,” White said.

The study split water consumption into six customer classes, each placing a different demand calculation on the water system and requiring slightly different rate adjustments. The customer categories were divided among residential, multi-family, commercial, construction, industrial, and landscaping.

Residents with large lots (16,000 square feet +/-) also expressed concern about how theirs will be considered, specifically regarding landscaping.

These homeowners, considered to be “large-lot residents,” have been split into their own residential tier to differentiate their water use from the average homeowner’s, according to the city’s report. Many such lots have traditional landscapes which require more water than conservation-designed homes featuring xeriscape or desert landscaping.

Under Tempe’s tiered rate system, higher water users pay more for each thousand gallons.

“Nearly universally there is a desire for us to acknowledge traditional landscapes and the fact they require water,” DeRosa told residents. “But it is most important that customers understand that our costs are increasing and we want to ensure that rates are fair and equitable.”

The city is expected to consider the water rate increase at a public hearing scheduled Thursday, Nov. 30.

More details on data and specifics about adjustment rates are available online at tempe.gov.