There’s an Arizona State Senate bill before the legislature that if passed, could result in customers seeing a 7 percent increase in their monthly city wastewater treatment fees.
Senate Bill 1430, which was introduced by Sen. Warren Petersen [R-District 12, Chandler/Gilbert], seeks to preempt cities from charging wastewater service fees for vacant parcels that are not connected to the system.
According to City Attorney Robert Pickels, Sedona has been charging such a “stand-by” fee since 2011 as a means of equitably distributing the costs for maintenance and depreciation amongst all customers, connected or otherwise. He said the bill would result in a loss of $400,000 annually and the need to increase rates to all other customers by approximately 7.3 percent.
“Once I realized how significant this impact could be, I became very concerned,” he said. “The way that our financial structure has been implemented for the wastewater system, all the existing rate payers would be looking at a significant increase in order to absorb the changes.”
Pickels said to his knowledge, Sedona is the only city or town in Arizona that has a stand-by fee. He’s received conflicting information as to whether or not Camp Verde has one. While he can only speculate as to how this bill came about, only one person spoke before the Senate Finance Committee, which passed the bill 7-0. That individual is a retired judge from Maricopa County who happens to own vacant land in Sedona.
The bill was heard on Thursday, Feb. 23, and was passed by the Committee of the Whole. No follow-up hearing date has been set.
In a memo from Pickels to the state lawmakers, he wrote that in 2009 — in conformance with state law — the city retained the engineering consulting firm of Camp, Dresser & McKee Inc. to study the city’s wastewater financial plan and to identify several utility funding alternatives.
In a report dated Jan. 11, 2010, CDM recommended that a new capacity stand-by fee be created by the city “as a key tool for enhancing the equity of sewer service deliveries citywide to both current and future customers.” The report further noted that the standby charge “is based on the city’s costs for maintenance and depreciation on the facilities build and available to serve parcels that have delayed development and remain undeveloped.”
This stand-by fee doesn’t apply to every vacant parcel in city limits because many are outside the connection area. Instead, it’s those that have the infrastructure to connect to the sewer system but have yet to develop the land.
“I hope that the legislators at least recognize how this fee was generated and precipitated by the study that was done independently, and that this is a viable option for cities to use across the state,” he said. “Simply because we’re the only ones to have availed ourselves of this structure doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, we believe quite the contrary that it is very equitable and fair to all of our wastewater customers.”
If Sedona is the only one to require a stand-by fee of the 91 cities and towns in state, does that make it a pioneer or rebel?
“Just because we found a better way doesn’t mean that it’s wrong,” he said. “Now we circle back to the argument we’ve been talking about this past year since [Senate Bill] 1350 — allow us to self govern.
“We’ve determined this is an appropriate way to manage our local affairs. Why should the Legislature tell us it’s not an appropriate and equitable way to manage our own affairs?”
Pickels encouraged those who are opposed to this bill to contact Sedona’s District 6 legislative representatives and let them know: Rep. Bob Thorpe, Sen. Sylvia Allen and Rep. Brenda Barton.
“It’s important that your voices be heard,” he said.