Phoenix City Council to delay voting on water-rate increase

by Lynh Bui – Jan. 18, 2011 03:26 PM
The Arizona Republic

The Phoenix City Council plans to delay voting on a proposed water rate increase until February after support for the current proposal fell through and questions remain.

The council was set to vote on Wednesday whether to increase water rates by 7 percent, but the council will likely vote to push the decision to Feb. 23.

“Water financing issues are very complicated, and the council doesn’t feel that it has all the information it needs to vote on the issue tomorrow,” said Ken Kroski, a spokesman for the Phoenix Water Department.

The proposed rate increase, which would raise overall sewer and water bills an average of 4.4 percent, has been controversial.

The city has cut the water department’s operations and capital budget by nearly $631 million this year in an attempt to keep the proposed rate increase low, but some elected officials worry that the water department hasn’t done enough.

Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot also had concerns about the city’s proposed water rate increase.

“We had increased fees and taxes repeatedly over the past year, and we’ve reached the point where folks can’t take anymore,” Simplot said. “So we’re going to have to send it back to staff and sharpen the pencils and figure out how the hell we’re going to do the right thing, which is to not continue to overburden our residents.”

It remains unclear, however, if the water department will propose a lower rate increase in February.

“The rate increase that we’re asking for right now is what we need to run a safe and reliable water system,” said Deputy City Manager Jerome Miller, who added that the postponed vote will give the water department more time to answer looming questions for the City Council.

The proposed rate increase is expected to generate $23 million in revenue for the first year and raise a typical residential customer’s water bill an average of $2.12 a month.

City staff said the rate increase, one of the lowest in years, is necessary to pay off mounting debt for more than $1 billion worth of projects Phoenix built in the past decade to prepare for growth, repair aging infrastructure and keep up with federal safe-water rules. The city’s debt is expected to jump by $38.8 million by the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“I believe that we need to conduct a thorough review to determine if savings can be discovered through efficiencies before this item comes back to the City Council for an up or down vote,” Councilman Bill Gates said.

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Bill Gates serves as the District 3 Supervisor for Maricopa County. His Maricopa County District 3 reaches from the far southern boundary of McDowell Road, north to the border of Yavapai County, from the eastern boundary of Scottsdale Road in places, to the western boundary of 43rd Avenue and includes the areas of Anthem, New River, and Desert Hills.

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