High water bills not a widespread problem

Buckeye officials say they are certain there is no widespread problem in its water system after spending four months capturing and analyzing data from a water hotline established to address community outcry over high water bills.

high water bills

Buckeye has 18,957 residential water accounts, and while residents have made a lot of noise about high water bills — enough to prompt a recall effort against Mayor Jackie Meck — city officials insist the problem varied case by case.

“When we’ve gone out to do the audits, there isn’t one particular thing that has happened across the board for every single person whose home we’ve visited,” city spokeswoman Annie DeChance said. “There’s been a variety of things that have happened.”

Since Buckeye began tracking complaints on Oct. 30, it has registered 421 cases, which make up 2 percent of all its water customers. Six of the cases were unrelated to water usage.

“It really is a series of events that happened all at once,” DeChance said, noting:

  • Water rates increased a year ago.
  • It was summer when water use goes up, and some customers went to the higher tier rate.
  • Some systems began to wear out and needed to be replaced.

Some Buckeye residents on social media have rejected the argument that spikes in water bills were the result of an oversight on the customers’ end.

Upgrades to the system underway

Only 11, or 3 percent, of all hotline cases, registered so far stemmed from an error in the city-owned electronic reader unit.

Under its capital improvements project, Buckeye is replacing all its electronic reader units, which wirelessly send meter data to a utility vehicle during a routine “drive-by.”

Buckeye is converting this system to a more technological cloud-based program. The improvements, which will cost the city $2 million, include a new billing interface that allows customers to review and manage their water use.

Mark Seamans, interim water resources director, said the city began replacing reading units a year ago and it’s 75 percent complete.

Buckeye water rates are on a tiered system in which the rate increases with more usage.

Base rate: $32.94.

Tier 1 (0-6,000 gallons): $3.93 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 2 (6,001-10,000):: $4.91 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 3 (10,001-15,000): $6.14 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 4 (15,001-30,000): $7.68 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 5 (30,001 ): $9.59 per 1,000 gallons.

An analysis by The Republic shows that Buckeye did register a high number of complaints about water bill spikes in 2016, both in number and in proportion to its customer base when compared to city-run water utilities in Goodyear, Peoria, and Surprise.

Peoria received 309 complaints among its 52,895 residential water customers in all of 2016, while Buckeye registered 276 complaints among its 18,957 residential customers in October, November, and December alone.

Compared to Peoria, Buckeye also far exceeded how much money it reimbursed water customers who filed leak adjustment forms.

In 2015, a year before the public outcry in Buckeye, Peoria reimbursed 80 accounts for a total of $24,870 while Buckeye reimbursed 134 accounts for a total of $35,338. In 2016, Buckeye issued 187 reimbursements totaling $82,523, compared to 87 reimbursements totaling $24,401 in Peoria.

So far in 2017, Buckeye has reimbursed 96 customers who contacted the water hotline, totaling $37,322.

Seamans said adjustments are determined case by case, but generally, if a home audit is performed and there’s no fault found on the water system, or if a customer finds a leak and fixes it, those accounts are reimbursed.

Customer service staff doubled

Buckeye officials say poor customer service, from city staff and its billing contractor, Fathom, aggravated residents’ concerns about high water bills.

Since October, Buckeye has filled four vacancies on its customer service team. Now there is three new customer service representatives and a customer service manager.  Seamans said 12 employees now make up the customer service team, up from the six or seven staffers that initially manned the complaints on high water bills.

At the beginning of March, the city had completed 247 courtesy audits and resolved 334 complaints.

Seamans, who took over the water resources department after the former director was put on leave and eventually resigned, said “our new mantra is, ‘Customer service is paramount.’ ”

“When the customers are getting these high bills, they are aggravated, they are frustrated and we have to step up our game to ensure that the customer gets the response they deserve,” Seamans said. “We put every effort we can into getting the customer satisfied to the point where they understand where the water loss might have been if there was a billing error — how it was done, how we corrected — but making sure our customers are not turned off in terms of communication.”

The city also created a Facebook account, Buckey Buckeye, to directly reach out to customers in a Facebook group where many residents gathered to express outrage and dissatisfaction with the water services.

Water conservation education

Buckeye is also “continuing to educate customers on water conservation techniques,” according to the water hotline section on the city’s website.


Buckeye water rates are on a tiered system in which the rate increases with more usage. The rates are as follows:

Base rate: $32.94.
Tier 1 (0-6,000 gallons): $3.93 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 2 (6,001-10,000): $4.91 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 3 (10,001-15,000): $6.14 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 4 (15,001-30,000): $7.68 per 1,000 gallons.
Tier 5 (30,001 ): $9.59 per 1,000 gallons.


Source: Buckeye: High water bills not a widespread problem


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