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Camp Verde freezes wastewater fees

Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin tells council Wednesday why it can afford to freeze wastewater fee increases scheduled for January 2020. VVN/Bill Helm

Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin tells council Wednesday why it can afford to freeze wastewater fee increases scheduled for January 2020. VVN/Bill Helm

CAMP VERDE — After more than two hours of discussion Wednesday, the Camp Verde Town Council still isn’t sure whether — or how –to change the way to charge its sanitary district customers.

But the wastewater fee increases that council approved in 2018 — to be imposed each January through 2022 – have been frozen.

For the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, council told Town Manager Russ Martin to come back with a fee structure through Fiscal Year 2021 that both eliminates any rate increases and also places a $75 cap on customers who pay the most.

Martin said he would have that fee structure ready for council’s Dec. 4 meeting.

Two factors led to council’s decision, Martin said. More customers, and septage fees that have netted the town more than $300K. Neither factor was anticipated when Camp Verde paid for a rate study before council approved the wastewater rate increases.

Before receiving his direction, Martin warned council that though the town could afford to not assess wastewater rate increases, that there’s no guarantee that a rate increase wouldn’t be necessary down the road.

“In both of these cases (factors), those things can change,” Martin said. “At this point next year, things could drastically change. I’m comfortably telling you that this is a two-year conversation.”

If you buy it, they will save

Camp Verde’s sanitary district customers will continue to pay $2.90 per month for each discharge unit in their home.

Discharge units are rated based on what the fixture puts into the system, and what the system takes to break down the discharge. They are not rated based on the quantity of water they use.

A single bathroom sink is rated as a 1. But a kitchen sink, laundry tub, washing machine, shower, bathtub or double bathroom sink are rated a 2. A floor drain, such as a drain in a garage, is rated a 3. A toilet, is 4 points.

A home with a kitchen sink, washing machine, two toilets, two bath tubs, a double sink in one bathroom and a single sink in the other bathroom is rated 19 discharge units.

That home, no matter how many people live in it, would pay $55.10 each month to the Camp Verde Wasterwater Division.

“I think your rates are horrible,” one woman told council. “I shouldn’t be paying the same as if I had three or four more people in my home.”

Another woman, who said she lives by herself, told council she would support “some sort of flat rate.”

One man told council that rates should be “based on occupancy or usage.”

Martin said that billing based on occupancy would be akin to a census, information he told council he would not want the town to be responsible for keeping.

But assessing wastewater fees based on usage, Martin said, really only could be done if the town owned the Camp Verde Water System, one of Camp Verde’s two independently-owned water companies.

Purchasing the Camp Verde Water System, Mayor Charlie German said, “is still viable.”

How to bill sanitary district’s customers

Although Wednesday’s agenda did not leave room for a change to the rates, it did allow council and the public to discuss capping wastewater rates as well as flat fees.

“Ultimately, changing to a flat rate isn’t as feasible as people might think,” Martin said. “Unless you go to a tiered flat rate, which is much like what we’ve already got.”

Council member Robin Whatley said that a flat rate would ultimately “raise rates on low-income people and lower rates on high-income people.”

“The lower income people would be subsidizing the higher income people,” Whatley said.

Councilor Bill LeBeau agreed.

“Flat rate, by its nature, hit the people hardest who can least afford it,” he said.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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