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Wed, Sept. 18

Council looks to rein in big water users with tiered fees

PRESCOTT – Large water users could feel a bite in their pocketbooks soon if the Prescott City Council follows through with a plan to charge more for water that customers use over a specified level.

At a workshop on Tuesday, the City Council heard a preliminary report from the Environmental Services Department on how the city could institute tiered water rates that would make large water users pay more.

Currently, the city charges the same rates for water, regardless of the amount of water that customers use.

ut several months ago, the City Council asked to see numbers for a system that would make the water rate go up with usage.

The proposed program appeared to take on more urgency after the council heard a report about current water use from Environmental Services Director Brad Huza. Ever since the Indian Fire in May, Huza said, the city has been using record amounts of water. If the current rate of usage holds, Huza said, the city could pump about 7,700 acre-feet of water this year – up from about 7,400 acre-feet last year.

Although growth in population likely accounts for some of that increase, the council appeared to want to encourage conservation among residents.

Mayor Rowle Simmons pushed for a tiered water rate system, which he maintained would curb water use. "One way to cut back on some of the heavy users is to hit them in the pocketbook," he said.

Huza pointed out that a number of Arizona cities, including Payson, Phoenix and Tucson, have done just that with conservation rates that penalize high water users by charging more for water use over a certain level.

Those three cities all charge a higher rate – averaging 35- to 45-percent more – for high water use in the summer months.

Huza proposed two options for Prescott: one that would institute a summer or peak usage rate of 45 percent more for water use more than 10,000 gallons per month per unit during May through October; and another that would increase block rates year-around by 25 percent for use of more than 10,000 gallons per month.

Although the council took no vote on the matter on Tuesday, several appeared to favor a system that would apply to large water users on a year-round basis.

The council also suggested that the trigger level for the higher rates should come down a bit. Because the average water use is considerably lower than 10,000 gallons per month for much of the year, several council members maintained that the trigger point for the higher rates should be lower – perhaps at about 7,000 or 8,000 gallons per month.

Prescott Valley Public Works Director Larry Tarkowski, who was in the audience at Tuesday's Prescott City Council meeting, pointed out that Prescott Valley recently adopted a new inverted rate structure that charges more for customers who exceed 8,000 gallons per month, and more again for those who exceed 20,000 gallons per month.

According to Tarkowski, that system has kept Prescott Valley's growth in water use flat, despite growth in population.

Simmons suggested that the City of Prescott should do "whatever has the most effect" on water use levels in the city. Huza said his department is currently crunching numbers and will come up with three or four scenarios that the city could use for a conservation rate structure.

Some council members pushed for more incentive for low water users. Huza said the scenarios likely will include an incentive for customers at the bottom of the water-use range. Under that system, customers who use less than a specified level could actually see a decrease in their water rate.

"We have found that 18 percent of our customers use less than 6,000 gallons per month," Huza said. Depending on what the council decides to do, he said, those customers could see a rate decrease.

Huza said he expects to bring back the various scenarios for the council sometime in August.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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