The Sedona City Council approved increasing the rates for the first time in 14 years by a 6-1 vote Tuesday, April 13, with Councilman Jerry Frey dissenting.
For residential single family units, the fee for next year will increase 15 percent from $32.54 to $37.42, before increasing by 10 percent in each of the next three years, topping out at $57.28 for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
For indoor restaurants, the rates will increase from $10.08 to $11.59 per seat for next year. The rate will increase the following year to $13.33 for every seat the restaurant has and cap out at $17.74 in fiscal year 2014-2015.
City Manager Tim Ernster said there are major infrastructure needs at the wastewater treatment plant and the fee increases do not mean the city will stop subsidizing rates through sales tax revenues.
“This plan will not do that,” he said.
Several residents opposed the increase of sewer rates.
Cynthia Nasta said sewer fees are especially unfair to landlords, and added they become collectors for the city. She said if a renter defaults, the landlord is held responsible.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “The city has penalized me.”
Tyler Barrett said many people in these tough economic times are not able to afford increases and asked for the decision to be postponed.
“Now is not the time for a new enterprise,” Barrett said.
Joy Girardin told council it takes a lot of nerve to raise rates when a few of them are not on the city’s sewer line, and therefore pay nothing.
”It makes no sense to increase rates,” Girardin said. “It is an abuse of power. I am so furious that anyone would have the [guts] to increase the rates when things are bad. How can you sit there and ask for an increase when three of you don’t pay? That takes nerve. That takes gall. This does not make any sense to me.”
She called every council lousy, and said they never get better.
“It’s ridiculous. It stuns me,” she said. “You should be ashamed for bringing this up when things are bad.”
Businessman Al Spector supported the increase, even though it will cost him more revenue than most other residents.
He said if 46 percent of the bed and sales tax is subsidized for sewer fees, he pays about $1 million toward this, and added no sewer increases for 14 years was a bad decision.
Sedona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff said chamber members support the rate increase. She also said the board of directors for the chamber understands there has been no rate increase the last 14 years.
“We believe it is fair,” she said. “I cannot think of another organization that has not increased their rates in 14 years.”
Assistant City Manager Alison Zelms said the new sewer fees are lower than what Glendale and Avondale charge, but higher than Camp Verde.
Councilwoman Pud Colquitt said rates had to increase.
“This is not going to be a motion I like making, ” she said. “I am sorry, but the city has a responsibility, and we need to move forward.”
Mayor Rob Adams said the sewer rate issue had been going on for a long time and council needed to make a decision.
“I really believe it is the right thing to do for the city as a whole,” Adams said.
Councilwoman Nancy Scagnelli said the city cannot continue to spend 46 percent of sales tax revenue to subsidize sewer fees.
“It is irresponsible for us not to do anything,” she said.