Aug 282013

By Julie Wiessner
Winslow utilities rates rose again on Aug. 22 within 28 days of the first increase, after five years of remaining fairly stable. The monthly water rights surcharge has also been raised on each customer’s bill.
The first increase in utilities rates went into effect July 25, and included water and sewer base charges. According to Winslow City Finance Director Gina Reffner, “The base rates for both water and sewer bills were raised due to hiring of additional personnel, adding another well and building a floating dock for the dredge.”
The water base charge is a monthly charge based on meter size, which varies from five-eighths of an inch to eight inches. Increases range from $1.03 to $21.90, depending on meter size.
The water consumption charge is per 1,000 gallons, and is set to increase anywhere from 19 to 38 cents for residential customers and 12 cents for non-residential customers.
For sewer services, the base charge per unit is currently $10.61, but will increase to $12.06, an additional $1.45 per month. Residential customers will pay an additional 52 cents per month for services, while commercial rate increases vary from 44 cents to $1.71 per month.
There is also a water surcharge increase on top of the base and water consumption charges rate hike that occurred in July. This amount is calculated to raise $180,000 annually to support the legal costs associated with water rights litigation.
The city had been charging a flat 92 cents per month surcharge rate for water users, but that has increased dramatically. Residents will now pay $2.84 a month, while all commercial accounts pay a flat $10 charge each month for up to the first 50,000 gallons. Commercial customers using over 50,000 gallons will pay $15 per month more for each additional 50,000 gallons of water used.
According to Winslow City Attorney and acting City Manager Dale Patton, there are a couple of reasons this is happening.
“One reason is that there has not been a raise in rates for the last five years. Another reason is to raise money for a lawsuit with the Hopi and Navajo tribes for litigation on water rights. There is just no other way to pay for it,” stated Patton.
The city, along with other communities along the Little Colorado River, has been trying to settle water rights with the tribes for the past 20 years. “We thought we finally had it covered with a temporary OK from the tribes’ attorneys and just needed to sign the written agreement. The next thing we knew, the tribes decided to reject it last year,” he recalled.
The agreement would have been a good one for the tribes, noted Patton. “Both tribes would have had water piped to their villages instead of their having to come into town to fill their big water tanks and carry them back home with them,” he explained.
Until that issue is resolved, Winslow residents will be bearing the brunt of the costly litigation.