DOUGLAS — The proposed water and sewer increase, which is making its way through the Douglas City Council, passed the second of three readings at the Nov. 10 regular city council meeting.
The first reading was approved by a 5-2 vote with council members Danya Acosta and Jose Grijalva voting against at the October meeting. The second reading passed 3-2. Council members Mitch Lindemann and Michael Baldenegro were not at the meeting and did not vote, which led to the closer vote with Mayor Donald Huish casting the tie-breaking vote. Acosta and Grijalva again voted against the proposed increase.
For the second straight meeting, no one from the community was present to express concerns over the proposed increase, which would raise water and sewer bills approximately $1.61 beginning with the March 2022 bill and $9.44 (before taxes) over the next five years.
City leaders said water and sewer rates have not been raised since 2012 and the deepening or drilling of three new wells, which would be done at an approximate cost of $1.6 million, needs to be done sooner rather than later.
At least five sewer lines around town are old and also need to be replaced at an approximate cost of about $500,000.
The proposal calls for a 2.5% base fee and a 5% consumption increase the first three years followed by a 3.5% user increase and an 8.5% consumption increase in years four and five.
For the sewers, the proposal calls for a 4% increase each year, which would amount to a $1 increase the first year, $1.04 the second, $1.08 the third, $1.13 the fourth and $1.17 the fifth for a total increase of $5.42 inside the city limits.
The total increase on the average bill at the end of year five would be $9.44 before taxes, $9.86 with taxes included for the basic residential customer.
Businesses would be impacted differently.
Acosta expressed her concern over the proposed increase, stating that while $9.44 may not seem like a lot to some people, for the elderly on fixed incomes it could mean the difference between making a decision to either purchase medications or paying a utility bill.
“We need to think about this population that we have that is our most vulnerable because they are on a fixed income,” she said.
Councilman Ray Shelton noted that Douglas residents are fortunate to have the low water rates they have right now, but the increase is needed if the city wants to continue to provide good water and sewer services.
Shelton asked about the possibility of getting grants to help out with these needs.
Luis Pedroza — Douglas’ interim city manager until newly hired city manager Ana Urquijo takes over — has done a lot of the “leg work” on the issue.
“None of those grants are guaranteed,” he said. “Also, when you apply for those grants, you need to show that you are financially sound as well and that you’re going to be able to pay for the ongoing maintenance of those costs and that you are going to be able to sustain yourself after you acquire those grants. We’re going to go for every grant that’s available to us.”
“With your leadership we have (done that),” Shelton responded. “You have done a great job. We have a good credit rating, and I wouldn’t think that there would be too much of a problem.”
Pedroza noted the rates should be reviewed every five years.
“Water is one of the issues that has been looked at in depth,” said Jerry Gonzales, who describes himself as a farmer, but has also been in the conservation business for 40 years. “It helps determine how we evolve as a community, as an area, and I know it’s hard to squeeze more money out of people, but $10 is not a lot of money to maintain the integrity of the lifestyle that we have. Water is affecting everybody in this area of the state, especially with farmers and ranchers. I hope you all don’t get to that point where we’re at right now. Water is the most precious of all the natural resources that we have.”
Gonzales said well maintenance is not cheap, but if to attract new businesses to the area, there must be sufficient water service, which includes good wells.
Pedroza said the city’s water table has been decreasing over the past few years.
“A study that was just completed revealed that we need to start deepening those wells or re-drilling new wells,” he said. “We already have some direction as to where we need to go. It’s just the funding that is holding us back.”
Shelton asked to see the reports and have them explained to the council on what is happening to the wells at the December meeting when the third and final reading of the increase will be brought before city council.
In other business, the mayor and council recognized Ken Nelson for his service to the community.
The mayor and council also approved the execution of a sewer services agreement between the city of Douglas and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry for sewer services.
The agreement that began in June 2000 expired in May. ADCRR wishes to renew the agreement in order for the city to continue wastewater treatment services.