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Phoenix seeks to pull in water system strays

PHOENIX — Having learned some 230 residents are being served by an outside local water district while inside city limits, city officials here are trying to make changes to ensure future city residents are automatically withdrawn from outside service districts when annexed into the city.

In a nutshell, two dozen or more meters are being serviced by the Charlotte Ann Water District, despite annexation into city limits in recent years.

When annexations happen in Medford, water district customers are automatically withdrawn from district service and become Medford Water Commission customers.

Phoenix City Manager Joe Wrabeck discovered the case of Phoenix's would-be customers in recent months and said the issue needs to be ironed out because a large area of land is being considered under a regional process for eventual inclusion into Phoenix.

"Basically you've got these folks being served by Medford Water that are in the city limits, so that's money we don't get because it's being paid to somebody else," Wrabeck said, adding that district customers, while paying Medford for water, are using other city services such as roads.

Like a handful of other water districts in the county, the Charlotte Ann Water District is served by the Medford Water Commission.

Established in the early 1900s, customers of the district living close to Medford were planned for automatic transfer to the Medford Water Commission when annexed, though Phoenix never sanctioned this, explained Medford Water Commission spokeswoman Laura Hodnett.

"More than anything it's a jurisdictional area," Hodnett said. "We maintain the lines for Charlotte Ann Water District, so we have crews inside the city of Phoenix that have to maintain lines and whatnot."

In terms of rates, Hodnett said the Charlotte Ann Water District and Medford Water Commission rates are within pennies of being the same, while Phoenix charges more for water.

Public Works Director Bob Lewis, who declined to discuss the city's financial impact from the missing customers or rate differences between the city and Charlotte Ann district, said the issue needs resolving to ensure all customers in the city pay the same for city services.

Wrabeck noted that Charlotte Ann rates are far less because customers are not required to purchase water rights.

He added, "If Charlotte Ann had to buy water rights, their rates would be closer to ours."

All told, just four water districts remain from the many dozen established in the early 1900s. The handful of districts make up just over 4 percent of customers who receive water directly from the Medford Water Commission, using 7 percent of total annual water production.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.