Phoenix City Council approves water rate hike on second try
PHOENIX – The second time was a charm for a water rate hike in Phoenix.
Less than a month after rejecting it, the City Council on Wednesday approved the increase, which proponents argued is necessary to upgrade the city’s aging and outdated water infrastructure.
The vote was 5-3, with Mayor Pro Tempore Thelda Williams and Councilwoman Laura Pastor reversing their votes from Dec. 12.
Williams supported the proposal all along but voted no last time as a procedural point.
That made Pastor the deciding vote. She fought through tears while explaining her about-face, alluding to the November death of her father, former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor.
“As I take this vote I think of my father, because he was a man of infrastructure,” she said. “He was a man about jobs. He was a man about what is best for the city and the people of Arizona. And to me that’s true leadership.”
She said she was in a “very deep fog” after her father’s death at the time of the last vote, when she was against the increase because she’d just voted for a rate hike in 2016.
“I asked for clarity this week,” she said. “I’ve got clarity; I understand.”
Vice Mayor Jim Waring and Councilmen Sal DiCiccio and Michael Nowakowski stuck with their no votes.
The rates will go up an average of 6 percent next month and another 6 percent in February 2020. The exact impact on customers will vary depending on water consumption.
The change will be applied to the fixed monthly service charge, seasonal volume charges and the environmental charge and is expected to produce $24.1 million of additional revenue in the first year and $25 million the second year.
Kathryn Sorensen, the city’s water services director, said during the meeting the increase will be about $1.98 a month per average user in 2019 and $2.37 in 2020.
In addition to structural improvements, the funds will be used to invest in future water needs.
“Our ability to deliver safe, clean, reliable water supplies is directly dependent on this infrastructure,” Sorensen said, adding that Phoenix would still have some of lowest rates in the country.
According to material supplied with the meeting agenda, Phoenix residents have the fifth-lowest water bills among the 20 largest U.S. cities.
Eight citizens and business leaders voiced their opinions during the public comment session, all in favor of the hike.
Greta Rogers, who gained fame for her feisty criticism of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver at a council meeting last month, was among the speakers.
“This is essential,” Rogers said. “It’s not an option; it isn’t a frill.”
Last month, the proposal lost by a 3-5 vote, but it was brought back for consideration by Williams.
Williams initially voted yes that time but changed her vote when she realized the plan wouldn’t pass anyway. That’s because a council member must be on the prevailing side to request that a defeated proposal be reconsidered.
The last water increase until now was approved in January 2016, which raised rates 3 percent that year and 2 percent in 2017.