Uproar Over Water Costs Continues In Buckeye
Chad Taylor moved his family to Buckeye at the height of the recession, and he got a great deal on a home.
Taylor’s water bills averaged less than $200 month until this year, when it jumped to $800.
“That’s the equivalent of me dumping my pool in my yard three times and filling it up,” Taylor said.
The Buckeye City Council may have voted to cancel a water rate increase scheduled for 2017, but some residents are still in an uproar over spiking water bills. Taylor is part of a group seeking to recall the mayor.
“Many residents right now feel that the city, there’s something criminal going on, and that the city is actually stealing the money,” said Taylor, who admits that so far no evidence has emerged to support such a theory.
Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck declined to answer questions about a recall. Instead, he gave a statement on the city’s efforts to work with people whose water bills, and usage, suddenly skyrocketed. Meck acknowledged there have been growing pains in acquiring a private water company and modernizing Buckeye's water system. But the mayor said he’s working hard to get to the bottom of it.
“I respect their right to recall,” Meck said. “But I would rather work with individuals face to face to solve problems and make our city great.”
Meck, who won re-election this year, has been involved in local government for decades. He’s watched Buckeye transition from a farming community to a suburb. Parts of the city look like a checkerboard made up of fields and subdivisions. All combined, the city covers hundreds of square miles.
Buckeye is Arizona’s largest service territory, which presents a unique challenge, said Dan Jackson, vice president of Willdan Financial Services. Buckeye hired Jackson years ago to study the city’s water system.
“When you’re trying to run a water utility, you have to provide water service throughout the entire city,” Jackson said. “It’s very spread apart and that really increases the cost.”
Another issue for Buckeye is not having access to outside sources of water. This means the city is entirely dependent on what it can extract from the ground. There are about 30 wells that pump water into treatment facilities for purification.
“That water’s got arsenic in it,” Jackson said. “It’s got other minerals in it that have to be taken out before it can be sent to its ultimate rate payer. And all of that comes at a great cost.”
But none of those factors explain why water bills have soared for some Buckeye residents. The city hired a public-relations firm to help educate the public about conservation, and a hotline was set up for concerned customers.
Officials said more than a hundred people have called, and about 50 cases have been resolved. Residents have said city officials told them they either had a leak or someone had stolen water from them. But those weren't the only reasons for unusually high water bills.
“Well there’s been a few things,” said Dave Nigh, Buckeye’s director of water resources. “There’s been a few misreads and some human error involved with data entry. But that’s been 99.9 percent of it.”
The city has also picked a company that will check the entire system. Officials could not say when work will begin.
“They’re going to review everything from start to finish to make sure we’re following best management practices and we don’t have any errors out there,” Nigh said.
For Taylor and residents living on a budget, that’s not enough. August is the earliest a recall election could occur, but the group has less than 120 days to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot.
“The trust is gone,” Taylor said. “You know, the trust at this point has just been broken.”