City of Phoenix approves water-rate hike; downtown students may face added fees

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A decision by the Phoenix City Council will raise the city's water rates by 7 percent beginning April 1. The change will affect downtown residents and could lead to expenses for students at Taylor Place. (Stephanie Snyder/DD)

Phoenix residents will pay 7 percent more for water starting April 1, according to a water-rate increase approved by the Phoenix City Council on Feb. 23. The increase will affect students living in Phoenix and may also apply to residents of Taylor Place.

Dan Chelgren, a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School who lives in the Roosevelt Square Apartments on Portland Street and Central Avenue, said that even a small increase would have an effect on students.

“Obviously if there’s an increase in a bill of yours, especially a college student such as myself, it’s never a good thing,” Chelgren said. “But I understand that some things need to be done.”

The proposed increase caused controversy among some Phoenix residents, who sent over 500 letters and e-mails to council members in the days prior to the meeting, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said.

Those in favor of the change said that water is a necessity and funds are needed to keep Phoenix water clean.

Those opposed to the rate change said the city government was putting the burden on the taxpayers instead of cutting government spending. Some said Phoenix residents should not bail out the city government for its poor spending choices.

In response, Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos said the city cut the rate increase from an original 12 percent to the current 7 percent.

Cavazos said the city’s water services slashed $620 million from its budget, cut managerial positions and became more efficient in its operations in order to reduce the rate increase.

Cavazos also said the down economy played a role in the reduction, and that the city did not want to overburden its residents.

“We did work very hard because of economic concerns … to cut this increase,” Cavazos said.

Chelgren said the city budget cuts made him feel as though the city government was trying to shoulder some of the burden, not just give it to taxpayers.

“It shows that they’re trying, and doing everything they can to not leave the citizens with all their problems,” Chelgren said.

Kiali Wong, a journalism junior who lives at Taylor Place, said she hopes the downtown dormitory’s management will consider the hardships on students when addressing how to handle the water-rate increase.

“You want to hope that they’d do their utmost to minimize the financial hardships on students,” Wong said.

However, the rate increase may cost Taylor Place residents, according to Chad Izmirian, senior vice president of Capstone Development, a company involved in building Taylor Place.

Izmirian said Taylor Place receives its water from Phoenix, so an increase in the water rate will create an increase in expenses. Those expenses may be passed on to students, Izmirian said.

Taylor Place could implement water-saving strategies to cut their water usage, as opposed to charging students more to live at the dormitory, Izmirian said.

“One (strategy) is being more water-conscious in the building,” he said. “We have a lot of mechanisms in place to reuse water.”

Some of those mechanisms are dual-flush toilets in all of Taylor Place’s rooms and a system that reuses water condensation from air-conditioning units.

Nathaniel Fish, director of operations at Taylor Place, said in an e-mail that the rate increase will likely increase the cost of water supplied to Taylor Place. Fish said he doesn’t expect the rate increase to have an immediate impact on how much students pay to live at the dormitory, however.

“Taylor Place’s rental rates are already established for the 2011-2012 school year so a change in rate to the water supplied to the building would not likely be felt by residents this coming year as those rates are already established,” Fish said.

For Wong, even if Taylor Place increases the utility fee charged to students, that increase will most likely be a “drop in the bucket” compared to the overall cost of living at Taylor Place.

Wong said that even a full 7-percent increase to the utilities fee would not deter her from living at Taylor Place next year. The convenience and security would be worth the extra cost, she said.

“But if that number continued to rise, you’d have a different story,” Wong said.

Contact the reporter at anthony.reda@asu.edu

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

Clarification: March 3, 2011

This article was updated at 4 p.m. on March 3 to include an official response to the Phoenix water rate increase from Taylor Place management.

4 COMMENTS

  1. As I understand it, labor accounts for less than 20% of the Water Dept budget. Which means that, in order to obtain the necessary funds through the type of spending cuts some people are demanding, would require them to lay off over a third of their staff. I’m going to suggest that that isn’t a smart move.

    Also as i understand it, one of the expenses that the water increase covers are new federal mandates for clean water (which we have to catch up on). We also have to maintain supremely inefficient water infrastructure due to our sprawl. Part of that sprawl is the city’s fault (for allowing it), and part of it is the taxpayers’ fault (for not questioning it).

    Think about it this way. The city has to maintain all of the underground water infrastructure, which is far more expensive for sprawl than it is for urban areas.

    In Phoenix we have only 3,000 ppl/sqmile. In NYC they have 27,000 ppl/sqmile! Therefore, we can roughly assume that in Phoenix we have 9x as much water infrastructure to maintain per capita than NYC does. Put another way, Phoenix has 1 taxpayer supporting every 10 meters of piping that it maintains — while NYC has 9 taxpayers supporting every 10 meters of their piping. When you spread the costs amongst more people, each person has lower costs.

    So really, we need to spend less time trying to squeeze blood from a rock (i.e. slashing the city government), and more time creating a denser city that needs less government-run infrastructure.

  2. Sean,

    The city was given federal mandates that were unfunded, so yes, the increased expenses will also cover those mandates for clean water.

    Interesting viewpoint regarding the sprawl of Phoenix contributing to these increases.

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