BY JOSH CHESLER | SEPTEMBER 11, 2013
Carefree’s Liberty Utilities insists rate charged 'is the standard used throughout the water service industry'
Sewage rates are causing many restaurant owners in the north end of the Valley to flush their money, and often their businesses, down the drain. Several owners of small restaurants in Carefree have seen their sewage bills rise by close to 1,000 percent after Liberty Utilities purchased Carefree's former service provider, Black Mountain Sewer Company, and closed the local wastewater treatment plant.
The extra hundreds of dollars spent on sewage and water services already put many local restaurants into debt or out of business during the slow summer. Some of these Carefree businesses, which largely depend on winter tourists and seasonal residents, known as “snowbirds,” to turn a profit, saw their water and sewage bills drastically increase from well under $100 per month during their peak season last winter to over $800 monthly during the empty summer season.
A Liberty Utilities customer service representative insists the Carefree restaurants “are charged using the same mathematic formula as every other business” they provide water services for and the severe increase in rates is likely due to the businesses “being undercharged by their previous provider for several years.” Though no managers at Liberty were available for comment, the representative insisted the formula the Avondale-based provider uses “is the standard used throughout the water service industry.”
The Carefree business owners have different ideas though. The restaurant owners believe Liberty Utilities is taking advantage of the small town's lack of alternative options and limited resources, as Liberty's auditors count on their formula to determine the charges for each of the businesses.
The formula, according to a Liberty Utilities printout provided by the owner of a boutique restaurant in Carefree, is now based on the number of chairs in a restaurant rather than the amount of water and sewage actually used by the business. The rate is still called a “per gallon / per day flow rate” but is calculated only by multiplying the days in each month by the number of seats in a restaurant before factoring in the provider’s commercial rate, meaning that it’s a flat rate with nothing to do with the water consumption of the business. For instance, a restaurant with 44 chairs that is only open for breakfast or dinner and serves 20 meals each day will be charged the same as a restaurant with 44 seats that stays open all day and serves hundreds of meals daily.
This change in sewer bills has cost many Carefree restaurants thousands of dollars, with some totaling over $20,000 just since Liberty Utilities took over their water and sewage services in January.
A case manager for the Arizona Corporation Commission’s utilities department is currently investigating the severe spike in Carefree restaurants’ water bills and believes it should be resolved shortly.