Water rate shock

Phoenix apartment complex owners see $1,000-a-month increase in their bill as Phoenix makes up for decade-long omission
Jack and Dottie Steinhoefl stand outside of Brookside Townhouse Apartments Tuesday in Phoenix. After paying about $200 per month for the past dozen years, they said that receiving a $1,200 water bill last month was “more than shocking.” Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

PHOENIX — After paying about $200 per month for water for the past dozen years, Dottie and Jack Steinhoefl said that receiving a $1,200 water bill last month for their Brookside Townhouse Apartments along Cheryl Lane was "more than shocking."

"I just couldn't believe it," said Dottie Steinhoefl.

"We knew we were being brought into the city and that the rates were higher, but when somebody tells you you're going to get a raise in cost you think maybe one or two or even three percent. When you get an almost $1,100 increase, your first thought is, 'This has to be a misprint!' "

But city officials say the total is no misprint.

In fact, said City Manager Eli Naffah, property owners in the area should have been paying the higher city water rates when the area was brought inside city limits a decade ago.

Under state law, rural outlying areas can be served by an outlying rural water district until they are incorporated into a surrounding city boundary.

While former customers of the Charlotte Ann Water District became part of the city several years ago, efforts to extend city service to those residents were delayed until last year.

Former Charlotte Ann customers say the rates charged by the city are up to 400 percent higher, with a $33.50 fee assessed on every apartment unit, single-family house and manufactured home, regardless of how much water each uses.

Naffah said a rate study now being conducted — prompted by objections last year from local manufactured-home residents to the per-unit charge — will offer some insight into whether the city should revisit how it charges apartment units and manufactured dwellings.

Naffah said he sympathizes with property owners, but he said apartment dwellers would merely pay just a few dollars per month if they were billed only for usage.

"For 33 bucks, you figure you can drink the water, cook, take a shower, do your laundry, all of that. For a dollar a day. That's not a bad deal," Naffah said.

"The cost for water service is not just for usage ... it pays to take care of the water tanks, pumps, distribution system. That's the part that's being shared by everybody. There is major cost involved in keeping that infrastructure and being able to serve and provide the service."

Naffah said the Steinhoefls have appeared at more than one City Council meeting to voice concerns.

But city officials have informed them that any changes to water rates would not occur until after a rate study by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.

The consultant is scheduled to visit the city in March to discuss recommendations.

Ryan Stickler, who lives in Steinhoefls' complex, said he and other renters had recently been informed of a $33 rent increase to cover the higher water bills.

Stickler said he takes issue with the varying rates between lower- and higher-quantity users.

"The way it's set up, the less you use, the higher you pay for the water you use," Stickler said.

Steinhoefl said she is determined to keep the issue in front of City Council until the city changes the way it charges for water.

"These people were put in office by the people paying these bills," she said.

"If they won't listen to the people, let's get them out of office and get some people who will listen.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

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