The Tucson City Council postponed making a decision Tuesday night on raising water rates for residents in unincorporated Pima County after holding a public hearing on the proposal.
Council members unanimously voted in April to begin the process of approving higher rates for some Tucson Water customers.
But after holding a public hearing Tuesday on differential water rates, council members voted unanimously to hold off on making a decision. The council will revisit differential rates and listen to more public comments at its next meeting June 22.
Council members approved a motion to direct city staff to return to the next meeting with analyses of four of the proposed rate increase structures with their projected revenues, impact to water bills and a comparison of each option to differential rates charged by other water providers.
City staff will look into how the revenues could expand low-income services, enhance water resource management and improve infrastructure reliability.
The four proposed rate changes that staff will analyze further include a flat 10% increase, a flat 40% increase or a flat 5% or 10% increase with a higher tiered-cost based on water usage.
On April 6, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose higher water rates for unincorporated Tucson Water customers.
The rate increase would not affect Tucson Water customers in jurisdictions such as Oro Valley, Marana and South Tucson, but rather unincorporated county areas including the Catalina Foothills and Avra Valley.
The city says it takes more water, and more water infrastructure, to serve unincorporated areas. According to city staff, 29% of Tucson Water customers live in unincorporated Pima County, and 36% of the utility’s pipelines serve these areas. They also say unincorporated residents use 43% more water than city customers.
To gauge public input on the issue, the city has hosted two town halls and has put out a public survey that closes at midnight Tuesday.
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, more than 2,200 individuals had responded to the survey and nearly 82% had indicated they are “very opposed” to differential water rates. Of the respondents, 76% said they live in the “greater Tucson area” instead of within city limits.
The city’s Citizens’ Water Advisory Committee, or CWAC, a group established in 1977 to advise City Council on water resource planning for citizens in and outside city boundaries, also discussed the issue. Members recommended the City Council hold off on making a decision until the fall.
CWAC said there is not a clear purpose for the rate hikes, and it has yet to be established what the extra funds would be used for.
Arizona Daily Star