By Cherie R. Wright, Financial Services Director
Sedona AZ (October 10, 2019) – How much do you pay for wastewater services? How much does your neighbor pay for wastewater services? Chances are you pay very similar amounts regardless of the amount of sewage that is generated. This is common topic of concern among Sedona residents.
Currently, there are three different rates for residential services: standard residential at $61.11 per month, residential low-flow at $47.52 per month, and residential low-income rate at $32.17 per month. In addition, there are other rates that apply for property owners of vacant land with sewer availability and for owners of developed property who have not connected to the sewer system when required. When these property owners connect to the sewer system, the monthly rates apply.
The main concern is that the current flat rate structure may not equitably allocate costs among the beneficiaries of the wastewater system in accordance with their impact on the system. Should a single resident in a small home with less of an impact on the wastewater system pay the same rate as a family of four in a larger home or the same rate as a short-term rental property with parties of twelve people nearly every weekend? Also, is the allocation of costs between residential and commercial accounts equitable? As a result of these concerns, the city council approved a contract for a wastewater rate study, and the consultants who are conducting the study have been working on options for alternative rate structures.
The prevailing rate structures used by municipal wastewater systems are either a flat rate structure, similar to our current rate structure, or a water-based rate structure.
There are many proponents of a water-based rate structure because this type of structure assumes that the amount of water used is comparable to the amount of sewage generated. Water used in showers, toilets, sinks, etc. drain into the wastewater system. However, a water-based rate structure is not 100% equitable either because there are other water uses that do not impact the wastewater system like irrigation systems, swimming pools, and decorative water features such as fountains, waterfalls, ponds, etc.
In addition, the impacts to the system are not solely determined by the amount of water flow – the strength of the sewage has an impact on the costs to treat as well. The sewage generated by a restaurant can be substantially stronger than the sewage generated by an office complex. Water conservation efforts, while important from an environmental aspect, also lead to less dilution of sewage and, therefore, higher costs to treat.
In our attempts to develop a potential water-based rate structure, we have found that there are a substantial number of businesses that have shared water meters, as well as some residential properties on shared water meters. This creates significant complications in attributing water usage to each individual customer. Under a water-based rate structure, the customer whose name is on the water account would receive the wastewater bill and would be responsible for determining a method for distributing those costs to the business or residents connected to that water meter.
In August, the consultants presented an option to the city council of a water-based system with an average adjustment for assumed non-sewer related usage such as irrigation. These averages would result in a summer water usage adjustment of 35 percent for residential customers and 25 percent for commercial customers. However, the average adjustment is also not very reflective of each individual customer’s water usage. The average residential water usage is 5,000 gallons per month, but there are more than 900 individual residential customers who use anywhere from 10,000 to well over 50,000 gallons per month. We believe many of these customers have extensive water uses that are non-sewer related, and, if so, it would not be equitable to charge them based on water usage.
It really comes down to this: there is no perfect rate structure. We strive to achieve the most equitable structure that we can, but under any potential structure, there will be customers who will not be happy with the result.
The city council directed staff and the consultants to continue analyzing the possible rate structures and to return with an option for adjustments to the water-based structure and an option for a new flat rate structure. Once an option is selected, we plan to conduct several outreach meetings to explain the option and the reasons it was selected.
If you have questions about your wastewater rates, please contact the Sedona Financial Services Department at (928) 204-7185.