Fruita pledges help for businesses with increased sewer bills

QUICKREAD

Fruita sewer

Highlights of the rate hike:

• Residential base rate increases from $35 to $41 a month.

• Commercial base rate increases from $35 to $50 a month.

• An additional charge of $6.50 per 1,000 gallons between 5,000 and 105,000 gallons.

• An additional charge of $4 per 1,000 gallons over 105,000 gallons.

• The city will buy meters for certain businesses to measure the amount of water used for irrigation, then subtract that amount from the bill.

• Certain businesses can apply to spread out the sewer rate increase over a period of a few years.



Under a federal directive to build a $28 million sewer plant, Fruita city officials in recent months repeatedly expressed sympathy for business owners who will bear the brunt of the rate increase needed to pay for the plant.

This week, city officials turned their words into action.

The Fruita City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to implement a sewer rate hike for residential and commercial customers based on water consumption, while offering some financial relief to business owners whose bills will rise the most.

Effective Oct. 1, the city will switch from a formula-based billing system for the city’s 153 commercial customers to one that assesses rates based on how much water they use. It plans to make the same switch for its 4,300 residential accounts, although that likely won’t take effect until sometime after 2012.

City officials have portrayed the change as the most equitable way to determine customers’ impacts on the sewer system and bill them accordingly. The base rate will increase from $35 a month for residential and commercial customers to $41 a month for residents and $50 a month for businesses. In addition, businesses that use between 5,000 and 105,000 gallons will be charged an additional $6.50 per 1,000 gallons, while those that consume more than 105,000 gallons will have to pay an extra $4 per 1,000 gallons.

Data from the city indicates roughly two-thirds of commercial customers will realize savings or see only a base rate increase, with the remaining one-third experiencing both the base rate increase and an increase based on usage.

But some businesses that use the most water and therefore are paying the most note all of that water isn’t entering the sewer system.

Wildcat Car Wash owner Keith Hogstad, who estimated his sewer bill will more than double, cited a 2002 study conducted by the International Car Wash Association that indicated 20 to 30 percent of the water used at Phoenix-area car washes evaporated or was carried away with vehicles, rather than going down the drain.

Likewise, much of the water used by convenience stores and gas stations such as Go-Fer Foods goes toward ice, coffee and soft drinks.

Go-Fer Foods co-owner Sherry Brown, whose business could see its sewer bill jump nearly six-fold, said residents need to help carry the burden being borne largely by businesses.

“I’m afraid that we’re going to see some commercial businesses in Fruita that will have to leave,” she said. “If we’re going to lose one or two businesses, that’s going to affect all of our tax rates, and that income isn’t going to be there.”

The city will help businesses in two ways. For businesses with bills that increase more than 35 percent, the city will pay for meters to measure the amount of water used for irrigation, then subtract that amount from the businesses’ sewer bill. In addition, businesses with annual bill increases of more than $2,700 can apply for phased implementation of the rate increase.

“I believe what we have in front of us is about as good as we can do for the time being,” Council member Mel Mulder said.


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