City mulls rate hikes, alley pickup’s future - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

City mulls rate hikes, alley pickup’s future

February 13th, 2022 development
City mulls rate hikes, alley pickup’s future
Community
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Matt Orlando said he warned his fellow Chandler City Council members to stay away from alleys.

They didn’t listen, and that is why Orlando says an estimated 60 people showed up Thursday for a public hearing on proposed rate hikes for the city’s utilities.

They were concerned about a proposal to eliminate alley trash pickup and replace it with curbside pickup in front of homes.

Matt Dunbar, the city’s budget manager who has been leading the public discussions, said more people have commented about alleys than any other issue in the proposed rate hikes.

Most residents attending the Feb. 3 meeting came away satisfied that if they and their neighbors want to keep it, alley pickup will continue. They’ll just have to pay $1.61 more a month for it.

The city plans to increase the rate that homeowners and businesses pay for water and solid-waste collection starting July 1. Dunbar said even with this increase, the city will still have among the lowest utility rates in the Valley.

A day after the alley meeting, Dunbar stood in front of a very different group to give them the same update. They didn’t ask a single question about alleys.

Instead, Chandler Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Kimble told city leaders they seriously need to reconsider their timeline for rolling out the rate hikes.

She warned them that businesses and homeowners’ associations plan their annual budgets from January through December, and that a significant rate increase in the middle of the year would be a hardship that could lead to lost jobs.

Kimble urged Dunbar to have the city delay the increase until January, which would give those businesses and HOAs time to plan and budget for them.

How much rates will be going up depends on the type of user. The city is not going to apply a flat rate hike to all customers. Instead, it is adjusting the rate hike depending on which category the user falls into: Residential, multi-family, non-residential, landscape or industrial.

A city service cost study compared each of those categories to how much service do they use, and how much are they paying. Some were getting more service than they paid for while others were using less service but paying more.

So, the rate hikes will vary to try and balance that out. For example, a single-family homeowner can expect its water bill to increase by 1.27%. Landscape users, however, will see a 5.88% increase.

The last time Chandler raised its utility rates was in 2017.

The city estimates the combined single-family utility bill will be $76.78 for the upcoming fiscal year (12,000 gallon usage). That is less than Scottsdale ($107.10), Tempe ($120.40), Phoenix ($148) and Mesa ($152.08). Gilbert currently charges less at $65.38. However, that town is also in the process of raising its rates and Dunbar said the increase will likely move them ahead of Chandler.

Anyone who wants to comment about the rate increase should visit chandleraz.gov/ProposedUtilityRates.

The city is gathering public comments through March. If all goes as planned, the City Council will vote to raise the rates in May.

Dunbar said there are a couple of reasons for raising rates.

“It’s a little bit of inflation – we’ve got utility costs that are higher, chemical costs that are higher – but we also have some capital improvements that are coming up that we have to make sure when it’s time to fund those capital improvements, we can fund them,” Dunbar said.

Drawing the most comments so far is a proposal to end trash collection in alleys. Only about 10% of the trash the city picks up is from alley service. That’s about 7,800 homes.

The city says it can save money by collecting garbage from the front of homes.

The contractor, Waste Management, has to pay higher insurance rates for driving its vehicles through alleys. The company also needs to use different trucks that cost more. The larger alley bins cost more money and the city has to treat them to keep rats and other animals from settling in.

Those bins hold 300 gallons and are shared by two families. The bins in front of a house are smaller, holding just under 100 gallons.

Most of the newer developments do not have alleys, so this is an issue that primarily impacts older neighborhoods.

If the city does do away with alley service, there is a chance that land could be returned to homeowners. However, Public Works Director John Knudson said that will depend on if there are other utility lines there or not. If there are lines for phone, electricity, cable, etc., then that would not be possible.

Dunbar said that opens up a lot of issues and is something the city would have to take a look at.

The decision to end alley service or not would be made neighborhood by neighborhood.

It would take a majority of the residents who share an alley to decide to end that service in order to save some money on their solid waste bill. If a most homeowners on a given alley want to maintain alley service, then everyone must pay more.

Dunbar said 98 percent of the submitted comments have been against ending alley service.

“Right now, from what we’re seeing, a majority of them would really like to keep them, and they understand there’s a cost increase to it, or associated with it, but they’re fine with that,” Dunbar said.

He said that most of the comments say alley service is more convenient, since they don’t have to roll a bin to the street on certain days, and that they prefer to keep the smell away from their homes.

The other options the city is considering are to limit the number of times residents can take loads to the Recycling Solid Waste Collection Center or call to request bulk pickup.

Under the proposed plan, residents could take up to two loads of less than 400 pounds to the collection center each year. Any additional trips would cost them either $10 or $20.70, depending on the type of material.

Each resident would be limited to only one call each year for bulk pickup. Dunbar said that 95 percent or more of Chandler residents only need that many trips each year. It’s the others who use the service often that would end up paying more.

Dunbar said the city plans to phase in the increases over five years so that residents living on tight budgets don’t get hit with them all at once. There will be three increases, spaced two years apart. The first would be this July.

He said the city will look at the numbers each year and may adjust the rates as needed. The ultimate goal, he said, is to make sure that everyone is paying a fair share based on the services they use.

“Since we didn’t get out of alignment overnight, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t go back to alignment overnight,” Dunbar said.

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