When I was about 8 years old, I unknowingly learned about inflation. During summer vacations when I was a kid, I would spend time with my favorite relative, Uncle Frank ... or as I would call him, “Unk.” I would stay at Unk’s home in Euclid, Ohio just about every Thursday night in the summer. He would always take me to the neighborhood drugstore and treat me to $1 worth of comic books and $1 worth of candy. When I was 8 years old that was big bucks. Back then, comic books were 10¢ so I could get 10 comic books with my $1. One Thursday I took my comic books to the counter and they said that would be $1.20. WHAT? They had raised my comic books to 12¢. A 20 percent increase! I could only buy 8 of my treasured Superman, Batman, etc., reading material. How dare they? I was furious and perplexed because at that time I had never heard nor cared about the word inflation. I did not receive any more value for my $1. Needless to say, when comic books went to 15¢ you can imagine my outrage. No explanation, no benefits.
So as we look today at the Pine-Strawberry water rates we have some citizens who are no doubt upset at the water rate increase. However, when you have fewer than six people on average attending our meetings and some citizens admittedly depending on the post office gossip for their information, it is difficult to relay correct information to the community.
First, let’s correct the Roundup’s headline about the rate increase. It was not 40 percent, however, it was still a substantial 32.6 percent if your water usage is 3,000 gallons a month. However, you cannot have a one size fits all percentage of increase because the percentage of increase depends on your total water usage. When comparing the recent rate increase to what we paid when water was being hauled, you get a truer picture of the aggregate amount of increase. The folks in Strawberry may say that
they did not have to pay hauling charges, however, the rate application and tariff for water hauling in Strawberry was tabled at the Arizona Corporation Commission because of the takeover of the system from Brooke Utilities.
When things go somewhat smoothly, we tend to forget the past. Fortunately, my wife keeps excellent records. Here is our residential water usage and hauling charges (not total charges) for the bills we received in June, July, August and September of 2007.
Month Usage in gals. Hauling Charge
June 8,800 $17.34
July 3,130 $143.14
August 2,610 $58.69
September 2,900 $19.99
A total of $239.16 in hauling charges for four months, which would almost certainly be doubled today due to increased trucking and fuel costs. Spread out over a year, hauling charges averaged out to an increase of $19.93 a month on an annualized basis and much like the comic books of my youth, I did not receive a benefit. In fact, you always wondered if the tap would flow when you turned the faucet on for a very quick shower.
So let’s look at today’s rate for my July 2007 usage of 3,130 gallons. Under the previous rate plan the bill would have been $36.91. Under today’s rate plan, the bill is $48.66 or an increase of $11.75. So in the aggregate you have to ask yourself this paraphrased question that Ronald Reagan posed in 1980; In light of the above, are we better off than we were in 2007? And compared to my comic book challenges with no benefits, what is it worth to know you can take your morning shower now that we have a stable and adequate water supply?
Of course, separate from the rate changes is the property tax adjustment. On a home that is assessed at approximately $135,000 (assessed value does not equal market value) the tax increase will be approximately $75, or $6.25 a month. While percentages can be frightening, it is important to look at actual dollars because you do not pay your bills with percentages.
Although we have overcome the water supply deficit issues for the immediate future, there are still the realities we face as a community and the need for stable revenue as we confront the many challenges of our water distribution system. Our water system has been neglected, ignored, and piecemealed together for seven decades. As explained in a previous article, our main storage tank is in danger of collapse, however, it is budgeted to be repaired this year. Other storage tanks have visible signs of leakage.
Although we have many areas of concern, the Rimwoods area of Strawberry is now at the forefront. During this year’s 4th of July holiday, only through the efforts of our CH2MHill management team were we able to prevent that area of Strawberry from running out of water. It was not due to a lack of supply in the overall system, but because of the antiquated and dysfunctional distribution system in that area of Strawberry. Our district manager is currently looking for a solution to this challenge. You may wish to view his video at www.pswid.org concerning areas of the district that need attention.
Another area of concern in Strawberry is that if one particular main line ruptures, approximately 70 percent of the Strawberry water system must be shut down.
Unfortunately, other costs have continued to rise since 2007. Fuel, labor and equipment have all increased dramatically. Of late, the federal government’s no-lead mandate on brass fittings has increased the cost of brass repair parts by 30 percent to 35 percent. As you are probably aware, our CH2MHill management team is constantly repairing leaks.
Lastly, we must prepare for the future. As the baby boomers retire, an increasing number are looking to communities such as ours for full-time retirement. Even if not one new home is built, we must be prepared for an influx of second homes converting to primary residences. In addition, the proposed Payson college campus will bring more full-time homeowners and water users to our Rim Country communities. This will burden our water system because 78 percent of our water mains (or a little over 45 miles) are 4 inches or less and the distribution system will be inadequate to keep up with the demand.
If you would like to discuss the financial or infrastructure challenges we face, or have practical solutions to our communities challenges, please contact me at email@example.com to set up a time to discuss your ideas and concerns.