A public hearing on a proposed water rate increase aimed at controlling spiraling consumption is planned for next month.
The hearing will be included on the agenda of the regular town council meeting at 6 p.m, Monday, April 10.
As proposed by Public Works Director Buzz Walker, the new rate structure reflects an increase in every water use category except 2,000 gallons or less per month. But the Payson Town Council added $1 per month to the base rate of $18.65 for 0-2,000 gallons so, in effect, the increase will be across the board.
Walker presented the council with two options, a rate increase that incorporated base and higher summer peak rates for high water users like the current rate structure, and the option the council selected which eliminates base and peak rates.
"They selected option B," Walker said. "Option A was a seasonal thing, and B means the rates apply year-round to encourage year-round conservation -- not just conservation in the summer."
Customers using 2001 to 5000 gallons a month will pay $2.65 per 1,000 gallons, up from $1.83. The rate for customers using 5,001-10,000 gallons will increase from $1.83 to $3.50 per 1,000 gallons, while those using 10,001-20,000 will now pay $4 (compared to current base and peak rates of $2 and $2.90), and those using over 20,000 gallons will pay $5 per 1,000 gallons (compared to current base and peak rates of $2.20 and $3.19).
If the rate increase is approved, a customer using 5,000 gallons will pay $27.70 per month compared to the current rate of $24.14. A customer using 10,000 gallons a month would see a rate increase from $33.29 to $44.10. A customer using 20,000 gallons a month would pay $84.10, compared to current base and peak rates of $53.29 and $62.29.
In adding the $1 surcharge to the base rate, the council directed that the extra revenue be used on conservation programs.
"The council was unanimous on the increase, and they wanted to raise the minimum and plow all that money back into water conservation rebates and things like that," Walker said.
The proposed water rate increase comes shortly after a new water conservation ordinance took effect on March 1, reflecting a more serious approach to water by the new council that took office in June, 2002.
"We're all trying to be very realistic about the water situation," Councilor Judy Buettner said. "I certainly don't think there is a crisis, but there is concern and we have to be pragmatic."
In presenting the proposed rate structure to the council, Walker included a chart that showed Payson's new rates would be roughly the same as those currently charged by Flagstaff. But, he noted, Flagstaff is about to introduce even higher rates to encourage conservation.
Buettner believes water is underpriced.
Buettner also elaborated on the council's thinking regarding the extra $1 surcharge to the base rate.
"The idea is to put more funding into water conservation," she said. "The (low-flow) toilet replacement program has been totally successful and there's a waiting list for the next phase. We also want to get into commercial toilet replacement."
Walker said that above-normal winter precipitation has resulted in some recharge.
"One of the big wells came up 10 or 12 feet in the week it was raining," he said.
But realistically the Rim country is in a drought.
"We did an exhibit of water levels of different wells around town," Walker said. "Some areas are unchanged, some are down a little bit, some areas are down quite a bit. That's really a better thermometer."
The town is continuing to look for new water sources.
Buettner said early results from the test wells being drilled at Doll Baby Ranch are disappointing.
The new water conservation ordinance is based on the previous year's rainfall. It replaced one that delineated conservation stage levels according to the amount of water in storage tanks. It is primarily aimed at outside water use.
"We're into our reserves and we have been for a number of years, so what the average person will see if we don't get a really wet spring is restrictions put into effect that vary anywhere from alternate day plant watering to no plant watering and no car washing. It (no outside watering) is a distinct possibility if we don't get a lot of precipitation."
Under the new ordinance, water waste of any kind is prohibited, as are new turf areas, artificial water features such as ponds and lakes larger than 50 gallons, plants that require spray irrigation and the use of misters.