Chandler utility bills may see increase this summer

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Chandler residents and businesses may soon see changes to their utility bills, pending action from the city. Chandler City Council will hold a public hearing April 28 before voting on potential changes that would take effect this summer, according to city officials.

Residents will see about a 2.5% increase in their combined water and wastewater bill. Businesses, multifamily housing and industrial will be impacted the most by the proposed changes, with increases ranging from 10%-11.2%, according to city documents.

Changes would go into effect July 1 if approved by the council.

“Residents have the good news,” Chandler Budget Manager Matt Dunbar said. “There will be minimal impact to residential customer bills.”

The changes, Dunbar said, are to offset the cost of maintaining the city’s utility infrastructure. The city is also seeing inflation in utility-related costs such as chemicals for wastewater treatment.

“Chandler takes the stance of analyzing rates every year,” Dunbar said. “Even if it only increases every few years, we still like to know exactly where we are at.”

The city last saw an increase in fiscal year 2017-18, according to city records.

But Chandler is far from the only municipality looking to change rates—neighboring Gilbert implemented a rate increase at the beginning of 2022 and Tempe is embarking on the process to look at utility rates.

Terri Kimble, president and CEO of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, said businesses and users of large volumes of water will be the most impacted by the proposed changes.

“People understand that rates are going to go up, and that infrastructure is critical to keep up the city’s quality,” Kimble said. “Businesses are not against the necessary updates or the rate change, but of the drastically accelerated timeline.”

Kimble said the chamber has asked that the City Council push any utility rate changes to January 2023.

“To have something go into effect so soon, everybody is already dealing with inflation and everything else,” Kimble said. “Businesses also operate largely on calendar-year budgets. To ask the city to revisit this for January would give businesses the ability to accommodate changes in their budgets.”

Proposed rate increases

Multifamily buildings are expected to see about a 10% increase on water and wastewater bills combined, according to the city. Non-residential users—primarily businesses—are expected to see about a 10.7% increase for water and wastewater combined. Industrial users are looking at about an 11.2% increase.

The proposed rate increases also include changes to fees associated with the Recycling and Solid Waste Collection Center, Dunbar said. Changes are also proposed to alley collection services as well.

Two no-cost visits to the Recycling Solid Waste Collection Center per year will be allowed for the first 400 pounds of a load, any weight above 400 pounds will be charged at $50 per ton for the overage, according to the city under the new changes. Additional visits will be $10 per visit for the first 400 pounds, and then $50/ton if over 400 pounds. Dropping off only recyclable materials will remain cost-free, Dunbar said.

Curbside bulk collection scheduling will be available for up to 2 free collections per year with additional bulk collections costing $30, according to the city. Residents with alleyway collection instead of curbside collection will be charged for the additional contract costs associated with the service of $1.61 per residence per month, according to the city

“So why are we having changes at all?” Dunbar said. “All utility rate studies include operating costs, chemicals and we include any expected capital improvements needed and debt service payments needed ... We determined we would need to raise rates for users to keep the inflows equal to the outflows.”

Maintaining infrastructure

John Knudson, director of public works and utilities for the city of Chandler, said making sure the city’s infrastructure is up-to-date is his top priority.

“Our city is aging, so the bulk of our infrastructure was installed in the 80s and 90s in what was such a growth spurt for us,” Knudson said. “So a lot of them are approaching 50 years old. When pipes, manholes and equipment for water wells age, you need to engage in some pretty serious rehabilitation to maintain it.”

Knudson said that some of the “big hitters” the city is eyeballing for improvement projects including water and sewer main replacements. He said the city is also heavily investing in its water plant constructed several decades ago.

“That’s all for water,” Knudson said. “On the wastewater side, wastewater is naturally very aggressive toward piping and equipment. You always have to stay on top of wastewater facilities. We do have a major wastewater project coming.”••That project, Knudson said, involves the largest wastewater pipe in the city, which is 66-inches in diameter. A restoration project on that pipe is coming soon, he said.

“Chandler has always chosen to do very proactive maintenance and rehabilitation of aging infrastructure,” Knudson said.

Kimble said she had concerns about high volume water users—like locally-operated breweries, hotels or semiconductor facilities—with the proposed rate changes. She said she would also like to see a feature on the city’s website that would allow users to see their exact bill under the proposed rate increase.

“Look at multifamily rates, too,” she said. “When those rates increase, that is going to affect the resident. If the cost of brewing beer goes up, that might also affect the residents. It also affects business owners. Hotels and restaurants have [also] been through a lot in the last two and a half years.”

However, Kimble said she completely understands why rate increases to support maintaining aging infrastructure are necessary.

“We have to reinvest in infrastructure, the business community is not quibbling about that,” Kimble said. “Personally, I had kids living in Flint, Michigan. We don’t want that in Chandler. It is important we maintain all of our infrastructure. It’s just the accelerated timeline, it’s expensive for businesses and they need time to be able to budget and adjust.”