By Sedona City Councilor Mike Ward
Sedona AZ (June 26, 2014) – On May 27, 2014, the City Council approved a 4% wastewater fee increase for businesses and residents connected to the city sewer. Although there was no human outcry against the rate increase, numerous individuals have stated or written voicing their concerns that our fees are exorbitant and even unnecessary since our visitors support our city with a city 3% sales tax (11% total) and 3.5% bed tax. It should be noted that city sales tax revenue has not kept pace over the past 6 years to offset both inflation and the severely reduced state revenues these past four years.
Our wastewater operation is perhaps the most expensive wastewater operation in the state, partially because of the construction debt service on the cost of cutting sewer line through rock. The city currently collects about $5.4 million in wastewater fees. The plant costs $3.6 million to operate, $2.5 million in annual capital and maintenance costs and $6.1million in debt service (totaling $12.1 million). The difference ($6.1million) is funded by our static sales tax revenues. It is noteworthy that the city just refinanced the 2004 bond series that will save the city $550,000 in interest costs over two years and the city plans on refinancing the 2005 bond series expected to net the city a savings of $770,000 in interest costs over 4 years. Secondly, we have a water disposal problem. Spraying our effluent to be evaporated (since ADEQ will not allow it to leach into the Oak Creek Watershed) cannot keep up with inflow to the wastewater plant, particularly in the winter.
The city is spending millions of dollars in addressing that problem through wetlands construction and injection wells. It has been calculated that over the long term, that the most cost effective method of disposing of city effluent is with the existing 27-acre wetlands, 100 acres for spraying effluent and six injection wells at $1.4 million each. This would free up 200 acres for public benefit, perhaps growing cash crops like wine vineyards or how about medical marijuana.
And, yes there are concerns about pumping Containments of Emerging Concern (CECs)such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, food additives, and others, but CEC levels are unregulated. Laboratory results indicate that our CEC levels are reduced by 99% from the raw waste entering the plant and the treated effluent prior to injection. Although very low levels of a handful of CEC’s have been measured in the treated effluent, the detectable amounts are far below thresholds established by the National Water Research Institute.
While considering the wastewater fee increase, our consultant did an in-depth study and recommended a rebalancing of rates among user categories that more equitably assesses actual costs with restaurants getting a lower rate and hoteliers a slightly higher rate. The average across the board increase is 4% but some users who only had a $7 bill will see a significant percentage increase to a new base minimum monthly fee.
Beginning July 1, residents will see an increase from $47.34 to $54.33 (14.7%) in their monthly billing but those residents who have low flow toilets, approximately 2,000 homes, will see a decrease from $42.94 to $42.25. I spent Memorial Day installing two low flow toilets (in retrospect, I should have called a plumber) so my monthly bill after July 1 will be reduced from $54.33 to $42.25, a $12.07 savings every month. The city will reimburse residents $100 for each low flow toilet they install, thus saving me almost 50% of the cost for each toilet.
Low-income residents should be aware that if they qualify as low income, the city would subsidize 50% of their wastewater bill. Anyone with questions should contact the finance department at (928) 204-7185.
The views that I am expressing are my personal opinions and not necessarily the opinion or position of the City of Sedona or the City Council.