By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert residents will soon be paying more money every time they flush the toilet or drink a glass of water from the tap.
Town Council has voted to boost the rates for drinking water, wastewater and reclaimed water for business and residential customers, effective Nov. 1.
The town’s rising costs for buying, treating, pumping and delivering water necessitated the rate hikes.
At least one resident, Joe Bakas, a director of the Silverhawke Homeowners’ Association, said it wasn’t the rate increase, but the timing that he didn’t like.
“Our budget is based on the calendar year,” he said at the public hearing that ended with the rate hike’s approval. “It’s a pretty significant impact to HOAs who work on a calendar year. We’re looking at a $6,000 increase in our budget next year.”
He asked the Town Council to delay the rates until Jan. 1 to give the HOA time to adjust its budget.
Water Resources Manager Eric Braun told the council the rates are built on a full fiscal-year, which runs from July 1 to the following June 30. Even with the rate hike occurring Nov. 1, he said, the town already has lost four months of revenue projected from the increases.
Delaying the rate hike to January would mean a $1.2 million impact to the town, which means funding for capital improvement water projects would be pushed back, according to Management and Budget Director Kelly Pfost.
She said a delay wasn’t impossible but recommended keeping the November start date. She also said that during the town’s extensive outreach, the issue that Bakas raised at the hearing had never come to staff’s attention.
Councilman Victor Petersen attempted to amend the motion to push the rates to January and got support only from Councilman Jared Taylor – not enough to pass the proposal.
Petersen and Taylor were the sole dissenters in the 5-2 vote to increase the rates.
Although the town last raised rates in 2009, the two remained unconvinced an increase is in order.
Petersen acknowledged inflation plays a role but said the town could be more efficient.
“The case has not been made,” Taylor added. “The burden of proof is on staff to make the case. They think they have. This is the easy way out, just pass it along.”
If the private sector was facing such a funding gap, it would put it to a team to close the gap, Taylor said.
He added he has been waiting and did not have the time to chase staff around for their justification for the rate hike – prompting a little tiff with Mayor Jenn Daniels.
Daniels said that based on information she has, all the council members’ questions have already been answered by staff.
She said staffers will meet with council members if they have questions so that no one has to complain about throwing up their hands on the dais and complaining about having to chase staff around for answers.
“Mayor, thank you for the lecture,” Taylor responded, saying there was a difference between providing data and providing a case.
Despite the water and wastewater rate hikes, Gilbert still ranks below nine other Valley cities for the cost to consumers of those two utilities.
Customers also will see a new $4.28 fee tacked on their monthly bills to pay for mandated air quality and water compliance operations like street sweeping.
In the past, this program was funded out of the trash and recycling utility, but to be transparent about the cost of this service, staff recommended a separate fee.
Creating the separate fee also means a rate drop in the residential trash service to $14.80 a month for a 90-gallon container from the $16.The rate for a 65-gallon container goes to $13.60 a month from $14.80.