Tiered rates hurt big water users

Cottonwood council discusses a way to make billing fairer

The tiered water rates that have been adopted by Cottonwood and Clarkdale are meant to encourage water conservation and reward those who use less.

But the rates don't take into account apartments, townhouses or any set of multiple dwellings served by one single meter. Those meters are reflecting the high number of gallons being used by all the families in each of the dwellings.

That usage is then being applied to a rate structure that penalizes those who use above what has been deemed a reasonable amount.

"Staff has fielded numerous calls," Cottonwood Utilities Director Dan Lueder said at a Tuesday night council work session. He said the concern lies in the tiered water rates.

"They're going to pay more than their proportionate share," he said.

One solution was introduced to the council. Lueder explained that each unit could be charged a base rate. The total usage of the entire complex would be divided by the number of units to get an average rate. That number would then be applied to the tiered rate structure.

"We'll put them on equal footing," Lueder said.

Mayor Ruben Jauregui remarked that the only conflict he could foresee would be if a resident worked hard to conserve water and the neighbor did not. Both would end up paying the same rate.

"It's not perfect," Lueder said. "It does even things out for people."

Even though the overall amount of money coming to the city's utility would decrease, with each unit paying the base rate there could be a benefit the city. Lueder said the base rate means guaranteed money each month.

Council member Bob Rothrock commented that doing this would definitely encourage conservation. Council member Diane Joens agreed.

"I think this is a good solution," Joens said.

The increased water rates and the tiered structure haven't gone unnoticed by property owners.

During a July meeting of the Clarkdale Town Council, Darrel Macey, the owner of Lampliter Village, asked council members to consider his situation.

The property is a 126-unit community inhabited mostly by seniors on fixed incomes, he told the council. Those units are served by two meters

"Our situation is unique," he said.

Macey asked the council to divide the total rate by the number of units to set the rate. At the time of Macey's statements, council members were voting to establish the town's water rates once Clarkdale takes ownership of Cottonwood Water Works along with the city of Cottonwood.

Mayor Doug Von Gausig said the town would look at special situations like Lampliter Village in the future.

John Kammerer is the regional manager for the CBM Group, which operates a number of apartment complexes, most of which he said are affordable housing and fall under government programs. There is a maximum level they are allowed to charge in rent, Kammerer said. Water rates definitely have an impact.

"We're directly affected," Kammerer said.

The CBM Group manages the recently opened Aspen Ridge apartment complex in Cottonwood. Kammerer said each apartment is metered individually.

"The Aspen Ridge property is a new development, and they came out with this individual metering, which will allow people to pay for what they actually use," he said.

The decision to give each unit its own meter was made years ago in the planning stages of the project and was not related to the city's takeover of local water companies, Kammerer said. But he does expect the individual meters to let water conservative tenants save money.

"It is to help the tenants Š you're only actually paying for what you use," he said.

The Cottonwood council only discussed the new water rate calculation in a work session. No action was taken but the matter could be brought before them again in a regular meeting for action.

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