DOUGLAS — The proposed water and sewer increase that has been making its way through the Douglas City Council the past two months passed the third of three readings at the Dec. 8 regular city council meeting and will go into effect beginning in January.

Residents will notice the slight increase on their March bill.

The third reading, much like the first, was approved by a 5-2 vote with council members Danya Acosta and Jose Grijalva voting against. 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.

Prior to the regular meeting a public hearing regarding the proposed increase was held, giving community members one last chance to speak up. Douglas resident, local businesswoman and apartment landlord Ida Pedrego was the lone resident to address the mayor and council.

Pedrego told the council that Douglas is currently one of the highest taxed cities in the state.

“Of the 431 cities in the state of Arizona, Douglas is the 14th highest when it comes to city sales tax,” she said. “There are only 13 cities out of 431 that pay more city taxes than we do. We are near the top when it comes to sales tax, but yet near the bottom when it comes to average income level per household. The average income level in Douglas is $35,500 for a family of three.”

Pedrego stated the previous mayor and council, of which some of these members were a part of, said taxes were being raised because Douglas was in the red, but that once it was out of the red the taxes would go back down, yet they have not.

“Between 2010 and 2019 Douglas has lost 7.5% of its population,” she said. “That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many residents choose to live in Elfrida and Bisbee but work here, and one of the reasons is because of our tax base. They feel it’s too high.”

Pedrego said many small businesses, like hers, share the added expense of a yearly plumbing backflow test.

“How many of you have visited these local businesses to see what their needs are?” she asked. “I believe the only one that has been out there is councilman Grijalva. A lot of these businesses downtown are on very strict budgets and not many of them are making enough money to cover these expenses.”

Pedrego asked the mayor and council why there was no foresight that these expenses were coming. Instead of waiting 10 years to raise the rates now, she asked why weren’t they raised gradually beginning several years ago?

“There’s other ways of doing this other than taxing a community that’s been taxed a lot,” she said. “I’m asking you to table this until we look into grants. Douglas needs a lot and I support that, but I also support thinking about the constituents that reside in Douglas and that should be in our forefront.”

The proposal calls for a 2.5% base fee for water 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 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 and would be paying a higher amount.

“All these points that Ms. Pedrego brought up are very valid, and we’re doing our best to mitigate all those points that she brought up,” said Mitch Lindemann, councilman for Ward 2. “Unfortunately, I feel we do have to have the increase in water. I was the finance chairman in 2008 when we did the five years at that time and of course, it was a necessary evil. I think this is the same thing.”

“You can either pay me now, or you can pay me a lot later,” Ray Shelton, councilman for Ward 4 said. “I hate to do it, but we have to do what we have to do.”

Pedroza appointment

During her report to the mayor and council, new City Manager Ana Urquijo announced she has asked Luis Pedroza to serve as deputy city manager while also performing his regular duties as city treasurer.

Pedroza served as Douglas’ interim city manager while a search was underway for a permanent replacement.

Mayor provides health update

Mayor Donald Huish was at the council meeting presiding over it in his usual capacity. He took a moment toward the end of the meeting to address the concerns many community members have shared regarding his health.

“Many of you have noticed that I have lost weight lately and was wondering if it was on purpose or not,” he said. “It hasn’t been on purpose. I’m having some health issues. It’s been hard to get in to see the doctors lately, but I finally got in and we have a plan of attack. Everything is going to be fine. I have a lot of faith that all will be fine and get through all this.”

The mayor and each of the members on the city council took a minute to wish all Douglas residents a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

“I encourage all of you to spend some time and remember what’s important to us and make some resolutions as to what we can do to not only improve our own lives, but also our community,” he said. “God bless everyone and Merry Christmas.”